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Skinny caribou on the Barrens

Mike W. Bryant
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Oct 15/01) - Damp coats were not the only problem facing several caribou herds in the Gwich'in and Inuvialiut regions this past summer.

An unseasonably wet summer has had caribou running wounded as a proliferation of rain-loving blackflies has been driving them to wit's end, says wildlife officials and hunting outfitters.

"Overall, we have received more reports of skinny or injured caribou on the barrens this year," says Ray Case, manager of technical support for Renewable Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development.

"It's been a particularly wet and buggy summer. Animals harassed by insects spend less time eating."

Harassed by a plague of biting insects, the caribou will attempt to run away, often injuring themselves over the loose rock and difficult terrain of the Barren land tundra, Case explained.

"The caribou that we have investigated had a condition called hoof rot," says Case, speaking of the Bathurst herd.

Fleeing from blackflies, the caribou have little time to eat, and in their distressed condition outbreaks of bacterial infections become more commonplace, says Case.

Eileen Jacobson, who along with her husband Bill, run a hunting camp at Rendezvous Lake near Paulatuuq, says several of the caribou shot by clients this year were skinnier than normal.

"Some of the caribou are very skinny," says Jacobson.

"There should be about three to four inches of fat on them, but there's only been about an inch. They should be really fat right now because they're in the rut."

Jim Peterson, owner of Peterson's Point Lake Lodge, says he has heard reports of skinny and injured caribou in other areas within the NWT, but those harvested out of his camp this year have been relatively healthy.

"The ones we shot in early September had about an inch or tow of fat on them," says Peterson.

Despite reports of skinny and injured caribou in other areas of the NWT, Case believes that this year's mild fall may undo some of the damage already done. "Maybe this late fall that we've had will give them an opportunity to forage and fatten up," says Case.