Across British Columbia, pregnant caribou are being rounded up for an ambitious program meant to save the animals from wolves. According to The Calgary Herald, wildlife officers like Cory Legebokow are capturing pregnant cows and putting the animals in specially-designed maternity pens. There, the animals are fed and cared for by biologists while they give birth. The mother and her young will be released when the calves reach one month of age.
“The goal of this is to increase the survival of the calves in the first year,” said Kevin Bollefer of the Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild Society. “What biologists have found is that the mortality of calves is [highest] in that first four weeks of their life when they are very small.
The same program was previously used in Yukon and Alberta with some success, so wildlife officials are optimistic. The caribou population in British Columbia has been in decline for years, with a roughly 80 percent decrease noted in the last decade. The Globe and Mail reported that the problem began when industrial development opened new roads into what was once remote caribou territory. The heavy snowfall of the area previously discouraged predators such as bears, wolverines, and especially wolves from intruding. With the new roads, the predators found that they could travel readily into new prey-filled territories.
“It takes no time for a wolf to devour a calf. It’s pretty discouraging,” wildlife biologist Scott McNay said.
In an attempt to cut down on the wolf population, First Nation hunters are being encouraged to hunt wolves. The number of predators harvested by this method remains low, however, and not enough to stave off predation on vulnerable caribou calves. McNay’s team is one of several that captured and airlifted the large animals to the sanctuary of the holding pens. Strangely, biologists said that the cows are accepting captivity relatively well.
“They are happy there,” McNay shared.
The animals captured by McNay’s team are expected to be released two months from now. Biologists will also treat the caribou for diseases or other health concerns, further boosting the likelihood of their survival.