Caribou take a detour
Unusually late winter allow herd to head south

by Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

NNSL (Nov 17/97) - The slow start to winter in the Central and Western Arctic is having an effect on the southerly migration of the Bathurst caribou herd.

Members of the herd fitted with collars that allow them to be tracked by satellite are now as far south as the Alberta border.

For the last 10 years the caribou have wintered in the area surrounding Gameti, Wha Ti and Snare Lake, according to the GNWT's chief caribou biologist, Anne Gunn.

"We can't say that this has never happened before," Gunn said last week. "This is just the first time we've documented it because of the satellite collars we put on, thanks to the West Kitikmeot Slave Study."

The unusual migration pattern has caused concerns among those in the normal wintering area who rely on caribou for food.

"Right now, we don't have any caribou near Snare Lake," said Dechi Laot'i chief Joseph Judas. "It's 50 kilometres to the nearest caribou and even then they're scattered."

Judas said Friday he talked with Rae Lakes Chief Henry Gon who said caribou had been sighted near the abandoned Discovery mine, about 175 kilometres north of Yellowknife.

Gunn explained that weather determines the herd's rate of movement, and warm weather has extended their annual journey south. "If there's no reason for them to stop, they keep moving," she said.

As of late last week, five of the six collared cows were clustered about 100 kilometres north of the Alberta border, about 150 kilometres east of Fort Smith. The sixth caribou is just south of the border.