, Chris Johnson
© Chris Johnson

Caribou

Caribou tell us about the health of broader landscapes.

Caribou are supremely well adapted to life in Canada’s north, with characteristics that make life in cold snowy landscapes tolerable, like hollow coat hairs for insulation and sharp hooves for digging through ice and snow in search of lichens.

Why caribou matter

Caribou tell us about the health of broader landscapes because they require large areas of intact habitat and older forest areas rich in lichens.

If caribou are faring well, it is an indication that larger ecosystems are relatively healthy and other species are also likely thriving.

There are three main types of caribou in Canada:

  • Boreal forest dwelling caribou
  • Mountain caribou
  • Tundra (Barren-ground) caribou

Each has different habitat requirements and survival strategies, from hiding from predators in dense boreal forest to forming huge herds that migrate long distances across the Arctic.

Conservation concerns

While caribou are an icon of Canada’s wild places (and featured on our quarter), they are in trouble everywhere they remain in this country. All Canadian caribou populations are considered “of special concern” or even, in the case of many mountain caribou populations and some Quebec populations, endangered. In Ontario, caribou are listed under provincial Endangered Species legislation as “threatened.” Caribou now occupy only a fraction of the area they once did before settlement in Canada, which makes their remaining range in northern and mountain areas all the more critical for survival.

Our solutions

Securing remaining habitat areas

The intact boreal forests of places like the far north of Ontario are the last refuge for healthy boreal caribou populations, but industrial development pressures like mining are mounting.

We are working to ensure the vital need to protect intact areas is addressed in land use planning processes and through Indigenous Conservation efforts.

Ensuring connectivity

Our work on large intact landscapes, such as the Northern Boreal Mountains of BC and Yukon, is focused on ensuring wildlife have the room to adapt to fast moving climate change and that landscape connections are maintained or restored. For example, we have mapped out high values areas for conservation across Southern Yukon.

Counting caribou

We assessed the state of boreal caribou populations in northern Ontario. This kind of baseline data collection is vital for tracking population trends and designing conservation measures.

We asssessed the state of mountain caribou in British Columbia to demonstrate how cumulative pressures – from logging and mining to climate change – are squeezing some populations from all sides.

Getting recovery plans right

We have used our expertise to comment extensively on federal and provincial recovery plans for caribou, and to point out where these fail to address the many combined pressures caribou are facing.

Resources


Media coverage

Thriving Forests, Thriving Caribou Populations

Justina Ray, President and Senior Scientist at WCS Canada, on what caribou conservation strategies look like in practice.
2024-02-22 | Wildlands League

How much disturbance is too much?

Justina Ray, President and Senior Scientist at Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, talks all things caribou on The Clear Cut podcast.
2024-02-15 | Wildlands League

How protecting caribou can help climate

Across Canada, climate change is exacerbating challenges caribou herds already face. But research shows protecting caribou habitat could have other benefits for climate.
2021-10-03 | CBC - What On Earth with Laura Lynch

Our team

Justina Ray

Justina Ray

President & Senior Scientist

Jared Gonet

Jared Gonet

MITACS PhD Student

Matthew Scrafford

Matthew Scrafford

Wolverine Conservation Scientist


Stories and op-eds

After burn: The new face of fire puts wildlife on the hot seat
2023-11-01

After burn: The new face of fire puts wildlife on the hot seat

How Canada’s wildlife is struggling to cope with the human-induced forcings of climate change
Justina Ray, Hilary Cooke
Modelling threats to caribou in Ontario’s Ring of Fire
2021-10-26

Modelling threats to caribou in Ontario’s Ring of Fire

For caribou in the far north region of Ontario, there are storm clouds gathering.
Claire Farrell
Saving our caribou forces us to face tough questions
2019-05-16

Saving our caribou forces us to face tough questions

We all benefit from healthy ecosystems and biological diversity. It should not be up to any one community to bear the burden of making long-overdue changes to the way we approach protecting wildlife and wild places
Justina Ray