Torngat caribou herd still quite small
Second survey of herd shows promise, and concern
A survey was recently completed on the Torngat Mountain Caribou herd, the second in it’s history. The herd is estimated at approximately 1426, up from the 2014 estimate of 930. However, researchers are hesitant to see that means there’s an increase in the herd.
Jamie Snook, executive director of the Torngat Wildlife, Plants and Fisheries Secretariat, said they would need to get more surveys done to get a more accurate picture of numbers.
“A lot of what you’re seeing in the Torngat Mountains herd are the first documentation and survey of the herd,” he said. “We’re still trying to see the full picture. We’re excited to have a successful field effort and be able to do a survey in the Torngat Mountains, given the environment that it’s in. Within the results there were certainly positive signs and at the same time there were sill signs to be concerned about as well.”
In 2016 the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assessed the status of the Torngat caribou as Endangered based largely on the inherent risk associated with its small population size.
Snook said while these results may be encouraging, the herd size is still small and requires attention.
“The groups that were spotted increased but the average group size almost doubled and the calf rate was at 23 per cent. Under normal conditions that should allow for the herd to grow. The cautionary part to put with that is overall 1300 animals is still a small number of caribou over The Torngat Mountain herd is quite small . Caribou
such a vast area.”
He said they also know that traditionally these caribou would have come quite far south of Hebron but in both surveys they didn’t find any that far south and most were counted in the northern area. The Torngat Mountains are quite remote, which has been a challenge in determining the size of the herd.
“The range of the caribou is still quite small compared to where it has been in the past. While it’s encouraging we still have to be very precautionary and take this into
account on a go forward basis.”
Snook said the impetus for the surveying of the herd was concern from nearby communities, such as Nain. People were worried they were seeing less caribou in the Torngat Mountains, he said, and so in 2009 they began to work on this survey. There were a number of logistical challenges, he said.
“The first challenge was to determine where the range of these caribou were. That was done bases on traditional knowledge of Inuit in the region. Then we had to find a safe way to fly that entire area, where it’s so remote and so rugged. To put it in context, for this 2017 survey we flew 7700 km. As the crow flies that’s like flying from Goose Bay to Vancouver and back.”
He said it took 28 days to fly all that area between Okak Bay and Killiniq Island
and they were lucky that the weather cooperated, for the most part, and everything worked out.
“Things like putting fuel out for helicopters, finding skilled pilots and crew, there were a lot of variables that could have went wrong,” Snook said. “Just getting this done was a success.”
The study was a joint effort of a number of bodies, such as the secretariat, Parks Canada, Nunatsiavut and the governments of Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.
“Getting that level of collaboration is not always easy either and this was the second time we were able to do it with this herd,” Snook said.
He said now they’re looking forward to the 2020 survey and have begun to prepare.
For more detailed information and to access the survey visit www.torngatsecretariat.ca/ home/files/cat6/2017-results_ of_a_spring_2017_aerial_survey_of_the_torngat_mountains_ caribou_herd.pdf.
Project field team of the Torngat Mountains Caribou Herd survey, spring 2017. From left to right: Serge Couturier, wildlife biologist consultant; Steve Lodge, helicopter pilot; Aaron Dale, project manager for the Torngat Wildlife and Plants...