Of­fi­cials in­ves­ti­gate sus­pected cari­bou poach­ing

The Globe and Mail (Ottawa/Quebec Edition) - - QUEBEC - MOR­GAN LOWRIE

An es­ti­mated 74 an­i­mals are left in the de­pleted cari­bou herd af­ter an an­i­mal’s car­cass was found in late Oc­to­ber

Wildlife of­fi­cials in Que­bec ap­pealed to the pub­lic this week as they probed the sus­pected poach­ing death of an en­dan­gered cari­bou on the prov­ince’s Gaspé Penin­sula.

An es­ti­mated 74 an­i­mals now re­main in Gaspé’s de­pleted wood­land cari­bou herd af­ter the an­i­mal’s car­cass was found in late Oc­to­ber, Paul Mont­petit of Que­bec’s Wildlife depart­ment said.

A ci­ti­zen dis­cov­ered the re­mains near the Cas­capé­dia River on Oct. 26. and alerted wildlife of­fi­cials, who ar­rived two days later, Mr. Mont­petit said.

Upon ar­rival, they found an an­i­mal that was gut­ted but oth­er­wise mostly in­tact, with nei­ther its antlers nor its hide re­moved.

“Were the sus­pects dis­turbed in their ac­tions?” Mr. Mont­petit said in a phone in­ter­view. “That’s the ques­tion we’re ask­ing.”

It is for­bid­den to hunt Gaspé’s wood­land cari­bou, which have been listed on the prov­ince’s threat­ened-species list since 2009.

An aerial sur­vey of the an­i­mals con­ducted last year pegged its pop­u­la­tion at 75.

Their low num­bers are ex­plained mainly by high mor­tal­ity due to pre­da­tion, habi­tat loss and a short­age of breed­ing adults, ac­cord­ing to a gov­ern­ment re­port pub­lished last year.

Mr. Mont­petit said any­one who is charged with de­lib­er­ately killing the pro­tected species could face a fine of up to $20,000.

But for the mo­ment, in­ves­tiga- tors are in the dark about the cul­prit’s mo­tives.

“Was it a mis­take? An ac­ci­den­tal slaugh­ter?” Mr. Mont­petit asked. “As we speak, there could be many pos­si­bil­i­ties, and it’s all spec­u­la­tion.”

The depart­ment posted pho­tos and a de­scrip­tion on­line this week, en­cour­ag­ing wit­nesses to con­tact their lo­cal Wildlife Depart­ment of­fice or to leave an anony­mous tip on the gov­ern­ment’s anti-poach­ing line.

Mr. Mont­petit de­clined to say whether the in­ves­ti­ga­tion has yielded any use­ful clues.

“That’s a good ques­tion,” he said, “but I’m keep­ing that to my- self for the mo­ment.”

Alain Poitras, the pres­i­dent of the re­gional chap­ter of the pro­vin­cial hunt­ing and fish­ing as­so­ci­a­tion, said it is the first time he has heard of one of the en­dan­gered an­i­mals be­ing poached in his 15 years with the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

He said hunters “are re­ally not happy” about the news, not­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion has worked with the Que­bec gov­ern­ment on preser­va­tion ef­forts.

“We’re not look­ing at a herd of 20,000,” he said. “We’re look­ing at a herd of 74 that has al­ready been un­der pro­tec­tion for many years.”

Mr. Poitras said it is pos­si­ble a hunter mis­took the cari­bou for a deer, but that would be un­usual given where the car­cass was found.

“What we find odd is that the area where the poach­ing oc­curred, there nor­mally aren’t any deer around there,” he said. “It’s a moose area, not a deer area.” And he said no hunter would mis­take a cari­bou for a moose.

Mr. Poitras said re­spon­si­ble hunters are op­posed to poach­ing, and he’s en­cour­ag­ing any­one, hunter or not, to re­port any sus­pi­cious ac­tiv­ity in the area.

DE­SIGN PICS INC./ ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

An en­dan­gered wood­land cari­bou looks around the alpine tun­dra at Mont Jac­ques-Cartier in Gaspésie Na­tional Park. An aerial sur­vey of the an­i­mals con­ducted last year pegged its pop­u­la­tion in Gaspé at 75.

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