A group working to restore a near-extinct caribou herd near Nakusp has released its second group of animals born and raised in protective custody.
But this year’s cohort, released on July 21, won’t be doing a lot to help increase the Central Selkirk Caribou herd numbers in the long term.
Fourteen animals were captured in late March by an operation sponsored by the Arrow Lakes Caribou Society (ALCS), and taken to the fenced maternity pen the group has built above the Nakusp Hot Springs. Eight of the 10 cows in the group turned out to be pregnant. Those gave birth to eight healthy calves – but there were seven males and only one female. So while that’s a roughly 35 per cent increase in overall herd numbers, the paucity of females won’t help grow the herd in the future.
“We were hopeful for more females,” says ALCS spokesperson Skye Cunningham. “But regardless, it’s good to have them in the census.”
Cunningham says the large numbers makes planning next year’s capture a bit of a challenge, as yearlings are usually brought along with their mothers to the pen. Biologists will spend the next few months debating the pen’s capacity and how many animals the organization can provide care and shelter for.
Officials built the maternity pen two years ago with hopes that providing a safe space for the cows to give birth, and raising them on a high-quality diet for several months, will give them a better chance of survival.
The animals were monitored by maternity pen shepherds from a specialty-built observation blind during their four-month stay at the six-hectare, heavily wooded facility. Shepherds have included various stakeholder groups, including some ʔaq’am First Nations community members from the Cranbrook area.
The Central Selkirk caribou herd is critically endangered, with fewer than 30 animals remaining. One female – the last surviving member of the Revelstoke-area Columbia South herd – was also captured and taken to the site.
Officials will monitor the progress and survival of this year’s cohort using tracking collars and other monitoring techniques.