This week on Yukon Vet, Dr. Oakley travels over 3,000 miles outside her normal stomping grounds to Val-d’Or, a far-flung corner of Quebec where she helps to save a herd of boreal caribou that is in danger of dying out. Dr. Oakley has a great deal of experience catching wild caribou. So Guylaine Seguin, a veterinarian for Quebec’s Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Parks, asks Dr. Oakley to join their team and share her caribou catching expertise. Catching caribou as they move through the forest is no easy task. The animals have to be spotted, coaxed into the open by helicopter, darted, evaluated, and transported.
An Icon of Canada
Caribou are an important Canadian icon and have been represented on the 25-cent piece since 1936. They can be found in Canada from the Yukon, down through the northern corner of British Columbia all the way across to Newfoundland and are designated by their habitat. Barren ground caribou live in the Arctic tundra. Rare mountain caribou can be found in the remote mountain ranges. Boreal woodland caribou are found in the boreal forests.
Caribou are shy and highly secretive animals that tend to avoid humans. The boreal herds, like the one in Val-d’Or require large intact forests which have not been intersected by roads in order thrive. Canadian biologists feel that the caribou are also barometers that demonstrate if a forest is healthy. If caribou are not thriving, then the forests are in trouble as well. Unhealthy forests are an even bigger problem. The forests are a component in regulating climate and mitigating against floods.
According to Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) there are five distinct boreal caribou ranges in Quebec. They are Charlevoix, Manicouagan, Manouane, Pipmuacan and Val d’Or. Half the ranges are considered self-sustaining and the other half are not. Dr. Oakley notes that the caribou in Val d’Or are one of those herds that is struggling and now consists of only 20 to 25 animals, although it once numbered in the hundreds. Boreal woodland caribou are listed as “threatened” under Canada’s federal Species at Risk Act, which means they are in danger of extinction.
CPAWS reports that the Val Dʹor populations are not self‐sustaining and are unlikely to survive under the current range conditions. Human habitation has diminished their environment leaving the herd exposed to predators such as wolves and black bears. While the adults in the herd can usually evade predators, the calves have a much harder time.
Protecting habitat is a critical piece of protecting the endangered caribou, but it is equally important to ensure the survival of the current herds. One of the ways this can be achieved is to protect newly born calves until they are larger and strong enough to evade natural predators.
Working with a team of biologists, Dr. Oakley helps with capturing four pregnant females, evaluating their health, and then transporting them to a safe holding. Once the females give birth and the calves are older, they can be returned to the herd and be more likely to survive. The capture and transport is high stakes and heavy on adrenaline, but it’s all in day’s work for the Yukon Vet!
Tune in this Saturday November 8 at 9 PM et/pet to watch Dr. Oakley Yukon Vet: Flying Caribou and find out more about these gorgeous animals and their future.