The controversial caribou rescue project in British Columbia

The maternity pen is a method of capturing pregnant female caribou and transporting them to an area where they are protected from predators. This allows them to escape the stress of predators while also finding a place where they can safely give birth and raise their young. Once the young are on their feet, they are released into the wild with their mothers.

Scott McNay, program director for the caribou, said the birthing pens didn’t work when they started their project: They’ve been tried many times, but with little success.

“We did this because we felt that no other approach could work with the number of caribou we had,” McNay said. In other words, for a herd on the brink of extinction, the pen was the only option.

McNay and his wife, Line Giguere, with the help of the West Moberlys and the Saulteaux, chose a high-altitude enclosure site in the mountains. They began building a perimeter fence by wrapping black garden cloth around the trees to give the caribou a large enough enclosure for their natural feeding. The team then attached an electric fence to the outside of the fabric fence to keep predators out. Finally, at the end of winter, they brought in caribou.

The Klinse-Za females were captured by net cannons from a helicopter. They were then transported to the enclosure in large bags specially designed for the safety of these long-legged animals with complex antlers (both male and female caribou have antlers).

Once at the enclosure, the caribou were guarded 24 hours a day by members of the West Moberly and Saulteau nations. Expectant mothers could graze, and their diets were supplemented with commercial pellets and lichen handpicked by the West Moberlys. In June, a few weeks after birth, the females and their young were released.

This process, repeated every year, has proven to be very effective.

“What surprised me was the rate of increase,” McNay said. “We’ve had a rate of 14% since our inception. This is the effect of the case. »

As confinement paddocks and wolf culling operations proved successful, nations also began discussing conservation of caribou habitat, which is critical to the long-term health of the herd. In 2020, they signed an agreement with the provincial and federal governments to protect more than 7,500 square kilometers of mountains, forests, waterways and disturbed land, i.e. areas affected by human activities.

According to McNay, restoration work within the sanctuary has already begun. This includes, in particular, reforestation and the “deconstruction” of so-called linear elements: forest roads, paths and other paths that were created during oil and gas exploration. These features fragment caribou range, creating routes for humans and predators. At least eliminating them as much as possible will ease the pressure on Klinse-Za, McNay says.

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