Peary caribou airlift
Caribou sent to Calgary zoo to reproduce

by Jennifer Pritchett
Northern News Services

NNSL (NOV 04/96) - No, it's not Noah's Ark.

But a Department of National Defence Hercules aircraft loaded with 25 Bathurst Island Peary caribou is on a mission of mercy this week, headed for the Calgary Zoo.

Considered endangered since 1990, the animals will provide the genetic stock for a five-year breeding program, announced Thursday by the NWT Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development.

They will become the only Peary caribou held in captivity in Canada.

"Our number 1 concern is the welfare of the animals, both in the short-term for transporting them safely, and in the long-term for the conservation of the species," said Doug Stewart, director of Wildlife and Fisheries for the department.

Unusually high rainfall this year and the prospect of a hard winter prompted the rescue effort, said Andrew Gamble, deputy minister of wildlife.

He said it might not have been necessary to move the caribou this year to save the Bathurst Island herd. However, it's hoped that the project will increase the herd size by as much as 25 per cent.

Wildlife officials became alarmed after more than 1,000 dead caribou were found on the remote Arctic island last summer. Many of the malnourished animals were found standing frozen in ice after they couldn't find food. There are 440 caribou left on the island.

The die-off is attributed to a build-up of ice and snow that scientists suspect is one of the effects of global climate change.

Anne Gunn, a caribou biologist, said the rate of population growth depends on the number of cows captured and transported to Calgary. They are aiming for 20 female and five male caribou.

A team of biologists and veterinarians set up a base in Resolute Bay, where the animals will be housed in an airplane hanger en route to Calgary.

They will be captured using a net gun fired from a helicopter. Twin Otter aircraft will also be used to transport the animals to the hanger.

The animals will be quarantined for one month at the Devonian Wildlife Conservation Centre outside of the city before being moved to the zoo.

Aboriginal groups have given up hunting the Peary caribou, using meat shipped from Baffin Island instead.

The cost of the project to the GNWT is $150,000 for the first year - excluding the DND hercules aircraft - and $25,000 for subsequent years.