A recent study published in Global Change Biology reports an average of a 60 percent reduction in caribou populations worldwide.  Investigators looked at 58 different herds from Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia, and Siberia, and found that at least 34 were in serious decline.  While a few herds are increasing in size, some are taking much larger losses.  For example, a herd in Labrador that was 50,000 strong in the mid 20th century has shrunk to less than 1,000 animals.  There are many contributing factors that lead to such drastic losses, however, it seems that land development takes an especially hard toll on caribou because of their wide-ranging migrational patterns.  Complications associated with climate change are also forcing caribou further north and disrupting their natural synchronization with the seasons.  As Dr. Justina C. Ray, Executive Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, emphasizes: "So goes the North, so go caribou. So go caribou, so goes the North.  The fates of the two are intertwined."

The declining population is also having an impact on communities of people who are dependent on caribou: "I want to emphasize the negative effects this will have on Arctic people who rely on caribou for sustenance," said Liv Vors, a population ecologist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.  "If the situation continues at the rate it's going, it will have profoundly negative economic, social and spiritual consequences."  The study indicates that worldwide efforts on all caribou populations and habitats need to be initiated and sustained in order to reverse this trend.


Image "Caribou" by Mecocrus on Flickr courtesy of Creative Commons Liscensing.