Caribou maternity pen project a success! 21 cows and calves released into the wild

Twelve caribou and nine newly born (two-to-nine-week-old) calves have been released from their maternity pen near Mica, as a multi-party project aimed at increasing the number of endangered mountain caribou in the Columbia North herd came to an end for the year.

The maternal penning project was designed to increase new-born caribou survival. Nine pregnant caribou cows were captured in March and given a safe place to gestate and give birth to the calves. One non-pregnant cow and two caribou near-yearlings were also captured at that time.

Shepherds from the Okanagan Indian Band, Splatsin First Nation and two local retired professionals tended to the caribou during their period in the maternal pen.

“This has been a collaborative effort among our group and we are extremely pleased with the success of the project to date,” Kevin Bollefer of the Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild Society (RCRW) said in a statement about the release. “We would like to thank all of our funders and volunteers that have made this project possible.”

That statement from the Ministry of Forests said the animals were released once the calves were mobile and large enough to better survive predator attacks. The caribou cows and their calves are moving back to their natural alpine habitat at more than 1,700 metres above sea level.

There are currently 124 caribou in the Columbia North herd and the goal is to increase the population to a self-sustaining population of 250 caribou.

“Our government is committed to the recovery of mountain caribou populations in British Columbia,” Forestry Minister Steve Thomson said in the statement. “Maternal penning is one way we are working toward this goal, and I applaud all of the partners that came together to make this innovative project a success.”

The project was conducted by the RCRW, an organization dedicated to the conservation and recovery of Southern Mountain caribou in the Columbia Mountains region. RCRW is a community-based partnership, consisting of a cross representation of individuals and organizations including: Parks Canada, the Province of BC, the Columbia Mountains Caribou Research Project, the Revelstoke Community Forest Corporation, the North Columbia Environmental Society, the Revelstoke Snowmobile Club, Mica Heli Guides and First Nations.

The released caribou have been radio-collared and their success will be monitored to help inform future maternal penning and other recovery efforts.

Quick Facts:

  1. The Columbia North herd, in the West Kootenay region, has declined by 40% between 1994 and 2014, and now numbers approximately 124 animals;
  2. There are approximately 1,700 mountain caribou throughout British Columbia. The species is listed as threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act and red-listed (threatened) in BC;
  3. Through the Mountain Caribou Recovery Implementation Plan, the Government of BC is committed to recover Mountain Caribou populations to pre-1995 levels of more than 2,500 animals by 2027;
  4. Other measures the government has taken since 2007 to recover mountain caribou include prohibiting industrial road building and logging, recreational snowmobiling and the sale of commercial recreational tenures, as well as implementing Best Management Practices for heli- and cat-skiing on millions of hectares of caribou habitat.

Please click here to read our previous story about this project.