Photo: Care about caribou

Boreal caribou are easily upset by the slightest change in their sensitive habitat. They’ve lost approximately half their range in Canada in the last hundred years (Photo credit: blmiers2).

By Gail Mainster, Communications Specialist

Canada is home to over half the world's caribou, the same animals called "reindeer" in other parts of the world. We don't think of them much beyond Rudolph and the holiday season, but they're ingrained in our national psyche, and appear on the currency we handle every day.

Caribou are amazing, elegant creatures. A newborn calf can run as soon as it can stand, just hours after birth. It's a survival skill for a species born into a dangerous life, pursued by predators like wolves, coyotes, and bears.

Ancient peoples depended on caribou to survive. Now those roles are reversed. The caribou need us.

Forest-dwelling boreal caribou are threatened with extinction nationally, and more than half of Canada's remaining herds are at risk. Our rush to exploit resources, like the Alberta tarsands, has fragmented their homes. Shrinking habitat, compounded by increased temperatures from climate change, is pushing them to the brink.

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Our federal government is failing to protect them and their habitat. Instead, they are promoting the interests of corporations, proposing, in the draft caribou Recovery Strategy, to "stabilize" the size of some herds by killing wolves without providing adequate habitat protection. We need to tell our decision-makers that caribou need more than half-measures to survive.

Unlike their tundra cousins whose massive herds are famous for the longest overland migration of any species on Earth, boreal caribou are timid creatures that stay in small groups and don't travel long distances. They are excellent swimmers, given buoyancy from hollowed coat hairs, and are well-adapted to Canada's frigid weather, with hooves that swell to the size of dinner plates — literally turning into snowshoes — to keep them from sinking. Their exquisitely attuned noses can locate lichens — their favourite food — even under the snow.

Boreal caribou are easily upset by the slightest change in their sensitive habitat. They've lost approximately half their range in Canada in the last hundred years. Roads used by industry make them easy targets for natural predators. As the forests shrink, they are increasingly forced to share their homes with other creatures, like deer and moose, which attract even more predators that don't discriminate between healthy populations of prey and the dwindling caribou.

The federal government's new Caribou Recover Strategy is a huge disappointment on many fronts. We need better ways to protect these magnificent creatures. Through the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement, the David Suzuki Foundation is working with forestry companies to support sound logging practices that will help boreal caribou recover and make companies competitive by rewarding them in the green marketplace.

Get involved. Stand up for Canada's reindeer cousins. Tell the federal government you want an improved, science-based Recovery Strategy to protect our boreal caribou.

You can also help caribou every day by choosing to get around using the least amount of fossil fuels. Walk, cycle, use public transportation, or carpool whenever you can. Reduce the amount of paper you use in your home or office. Choose one hundred percent post-consumer waste paper or FSC-certified products.

Let's work together to keep trees — and caribou — in the forest.

December 7, 2011

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