University of Calgary

Moving caribou to strengthen a herd

UToday HomeApril 3, 2012

Nigel Caulkett (second from left) records data as one of the translocated mountain caribou gets released in the Purcell Mountains.Nigel Caulkett (second from left) records data as one of the translocated mountain caribou gets released in the Purcell Mountains. Others at the release site included representatives from the Tahltan and Ktunaxa First Nations, biologists from the BC government and a University of Victoria researcher. Photo by Owen SlaterTwo faculty members from veterinary medicine, Nigel Caulkett and Owen Slater, helped move 20 mountain caribou from a remote corner of northwest B.C. to a dwindling herd in the South Purcell Mountain range.

The two assisted in the complex process of capturing 17 cows and three bulls from a stable herd of 1,500 animals near Dease Lake and transporting them to Kimberley, where the animals were then flown to remote mountain locations to augment the Purcell South herd of just 14 animals.

Caulkett, head of veterinary clinical and diagnostic sciences and Slater, a sessional instructor in the ecosystem and public health department, were part of a four-person veterinary team led by Helen Schwantje, wildlife veterinarian with the B.C. Ministry of Natural Resource Operations.

“Mountain caribou are listed as a threatened species and efforts are underway to save this iconic Canadian species,” says Caulkett. “We hope the translocation will help the Purcell herd gradually rebuild to a sustainable population of about 100 animals.”

To minimize the effects of capture and handling, the caribou were sedated during restraint and handling. And they were given a long acting tranquilizer while they were in the transport trailer to allow them to slowly acclimatize to their new surroundings.

Volunteers had collected fresh snow and arboreal lichen to place in the trailer and once the caribou arrived in Kimberley—accompanied by a four-person veterinary team—the animals were sedated and flown in the back of a helicopter to the release sites.

After years of planning, a complex operation to move 20 mountain caribou to a dwindling herd in B.C. took place a month ago with the help of faculty from veterinary medicine. After years of planning, a complex operation to move 20 mountain caribou to a dwindling herd in B.C. took place a month ago with the help of faculty from veterinary medicine. Each animal was fitted with a radio collar and biological samples will be analyzed as part of collaborative research projects at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. Caulkett, Slater and student Tara Risling will look at parameters associated with myopathy, as well as other physiological variables to see the effects of these types of translocations, with the aim of enhancing their success.

“Capture and translocation is often associated with significant muscle damage, in its most extreme forms capture myopathy can be fatal,” says Caulkett. “We are attempting to devise techniques that will allow us to determine if an animal is at high risk of developing clinical myopathy post capture, and develop strategies to decrease the risk of this disease during capture, handling and translocation.”

The B.C. government, Tahltan First Nation members in Dease Lake and Ktunaxa First Nation members in the East Kootenay were among the collaborators on the translocation Feb. 27 to March 3.