Qausuittuq National Park, Nunavut
Peary caribou are not easy to see — especially in the spring and fall, says Jovan Simic, acting park manager for Qausuittuq National Park on northern Bathurst Island, Nunavut. That’s when their coats change from mostly white in winter, to slate grey with white legs and under-parts in the summer, then back again, allowing them to blend perfectly with patches of rock and snow. They are also smaller and slighter than their cousins to the south, and their dwindling population (now only 13,000 animals across the High Arctic) makes them ever harder to find. The protection of the species is one of the main reasons Parks Canada created the 11,000-square-kilometre park in 2015. Now established, it’s time to clean it up. Until recently, hundreds of fuel barrels dotted the landscape — remnants of oil and gas exploration in the 1960s and ’70s. The barrels were eyesores and sources of contamination, and while not necessarily considered a major direct threat to caribou, their presence only further derogated the species’ embattled habitat. And for Inuit that have used the land for millennia — archeological evidence of Inuit cultures in the area dates back 4,500 years — “it’s very important to preserve and conserve it in the best state possible,” says Simic. Community played a big role in helping with the barrel removal logistics — for example, by advising on how best to access some of the spots, and in pinpointing barrels that had not been identified in previous inventories. Local crews were hired to assist. The team removed 200 barrels — a sizeable dent in the number scattered throughout the park. “We had a community feast as part of the wrap-up,” says Simic, adding that more than 80 people showed up in Resolute — a town of 200 people — to celebrate the work that was done.
Two Peary caribou in Qausuittuq National Park ( this image). Jovan Simic ( below, far right), the park’s acting manager, and his staff outside their office.