Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Real Grey Ghost

US Person wrote recently about the Porcupine caribou herd, the largest in the world, that occupies Alaska's north coast. Now we turn to the other end of the spectrum: only three members of Selkirk herd remain alive in the wild. The woodland caribou species (Rangifer tarandus caribou) once roamed as far south as Michigan, Vermont, Minnesota and New York. This spring, aerial surveys confirmed that only three females remain of the Selkirk herd, named for the mountains that span the border between British Columbia and Washington. There were around 12 individuals in 2016, down from 50 in 2009. Only three survive, and within the space of a few months or perhaps a year the species will be gone forever. The species nickname is the "grey ghost" of the forest, apt for its ability to stay hidden in deep forest from predators. Since irony is officially dead, their plight can only be termed tragic. Even if all three females are pregnant, and there is no indication that they are, their path to extinction is most probably irreversible.

The tragedy does not end there, unfortunately. Two weeks after the Selkirk's demise was made public, researchers announced that another herd, known as the South Percells, just north of British Columbia is down to four members--three females and one male.  Caribou numbers have been declining for decades as the result of human disturbance and fragmented habitat. Nevertheless it is a shock to realize that these imposing inhabitants of the boreal forest will be gone forever. Conservation plans have not halted the declines in population.  Some fewer than 1200 caribou remain in Canada's mountainous forests. Canada's environment minister announced this month that the federal government will step in to help preserve the remaining caribou if the provincial government does not act decisively to protect core habitat soon.  The message is clear: remaining herds cannot afford to wait for man's help.

A similar extinction befell the woodland caribou herd in Alberta’s Banff National Park. The herd dwindled to a point where a single avalanche wiped out its last remaining members in 2009--gone forever. It is relevant to note that as much as 70 percent of Alberta’s oil sands reserves are found within caribou habitats.  Caribou need dense forest to survive the harsh environment in which they live. Watch this video about the real vanishing ghost.