Wild caribou are seen near the Meadowbank Gold Mine in Nunavut on Monday, March 23, 2009. Parks Canada is preparing a plan to round up female caribou from nearly vanished herds and pen them in a captive breeding program to replenish others. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Wild caribou are seen near the Meadowbank Gold Mine in Nunavut on Monday, March 23, 2009. Parks Canada is preparing a plan to round up female caribou from nearly vanished herds and pen them in a captive breeding program to replenish others. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Parks Canada plans first captive breeding program for Jasper National Park caribou

Parks Canada has been criticized for failing to close backcountry in the winter to protect Jasper’s herds

Caribou herds in Canada’s Rocky Mountains are now so precarious that Parks Canada is preparing a plan to round up females from nearly vanished herds and pen them in a captive breeding program to replenish others.

The highly invasive move is hinted at in an email distributed last week.

“Parks Canada has been investigating the feasibility of developing a caribou conservation breeding program and is now at the point where a proposal will undergo a review by external experts,” the email said.

A draft of the plan dated 2017 is outlined in documents obtained by The Canadian Press.

It proposes taking females from herds in Jasper National Park that are too small to survive — fewer than 10 animals — and pen them in a facility near the town of Jasper.

Those animals would be augmented by caribou from other herds until there are about 40 females and five males in a highly managed and monitored area of about one square kilometre, surrounded by an electrified fence.

The proposal suggests those breeding females could produce up to 20 animals a year. At that rate, it would take at least a decade to bring Jasper’s herds back to self-sustaining levels.

The facility could also be used to restore herds in Banff National Park.

Dave Argument, Jasper’s conservation manager, said Parks Canada will seek Indigenous as well as expert comment.

“We expect a captive herd for breeding purposes could start producing animals for release as early as 2024,” he said.

Caribou expert Stan Boutin of the University of Alberta called the program risky.

“There’s lots of things that could go wrong,” he said.

There’s no guarantee that caribou yearlings raised in captivity would survive in the wild.

“We need to go into this eyes wide open that there will be animals that we have just spent time and effort breeding that will become prey,” said Argument.

Public support is also uncertain, he acknowledged.

“We’re taking a wild animal and putting it in a pen. The breeding population in the pen may spend the rest of their life in captivity. That’s a significant change that many people might view as being a step too far.”

But desperate times call for desperate measures, said Boutin, who has proposed a similar, less radical plan to pen pregnant caribou cows until after they calve.

“(Parks Canada) have done their homework,” he said.

Boutin said there’s no point in lamenting the need to treat wild animals as semi-domesticated.

“Nothing’s natural any more, given how we’ve changed the system.”

Parks Canada has been criticized for failing to close access roads and backcountry in the winter to protect Jasper’s herds, as well as for approving an expansion of the Marmot Basin ski area.

But Argument said the problem in Jasper began when managers began encouraging the growth of elk herds. That resulted in larger wolf packs, which eventually turned their attention to caribou.

Wolf density in Jasper is now low enough to give caribou a chance, said Argument.

Officials all over Canada are struggling to preserve the country’s caribou herds, almost all of which are collapsing largely due to increasing pressure from resource development and backcountry access.

Last week, the federal and Alberta governments released a plan to protect the animals. But those plans were criticized for failing to provide any interim measures while officials take up to five years to designate protected areas.

“We need on-the-ground protection of the caribou and bison on our traditional lands,” said a statement from Allan Adam, chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.

“We are disappointed that the federal government did not act on the recommendation for a protection order.”

Argument acknowledged the captive breeding plan for Jasper has never been done before on this scale.

But it may be the last chance to keep them on the landscape.

“It’s such an important undertaking,” Argument said.

“If we make a mistake, we may only have the one chance. They are down to such low numbers.”

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

Caribou

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

City of Red Deer has nearly doubled its active COVID-19 case count since Feb. 10 and has 75.6 per cent of the Central zone’s active cases. (File photo)
Another new high: Red Deer hits 574 active COVID-19 cases

Province reports 13 new COVID-19 deaths, 430 new cases

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported 11 additional deaths over the past 24 hours. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta
Red Deer active COVID-19 cases drop slightly

Province reports 267 additional COVID-19 cases, 11 new deaths

On Monday, Feb. 22, Island Health listed Glacier View Secondary on 241 Beacher Drive in Courtenay as having a COVID-19 exposure Feb. 17 and 18. Black Press file photo
Red Deer sets new COVID-19 case record

There are now 565 active cases in Red Deer

County
County of Paintearth meeting highlights

The second round of the County of Paintearth’s Land Use Bylaw public engagement survey is now complete

Across the province, there are 2,738 active cases of COVID-19, with 18,417 recovered cases. There have been 288 deaths from the virus in Alberta since the beginning of the pandemic. (File photo)
Red Deer has 564 of central zone’s 766 active COVID-19 cases

Government of Alberta identifies 328 new COVID-19 cases Sunday

Bookings for COVID-19 vaccines for people age 75 or older start Wednesday. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Updated: Delays for seniors booking for vaccine appointments

By 9:20 a.m. Wednesday, 4,500 seniors had booked their appointments

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
NDP will not trigger election as long as pandemic continues: Singh

‘“We will vote to keep the government going’

Mike Ammeter (Photo by Rebecca Hadfield)
Sylvan Lake man elected chair of Canadian Canola Growers Association

Mike Ammeter is a local farmer located near the Town of Sylvan Lake

Students and staff at Gateway Christian School wore pink Wednesday in support of Pink Shirt Day, a worldwide anti-bullying initiative that was started in 2007. (Photo courtesy of Red Deer Public Schools)
Students, central Alberta community celebrate Pink Shirt Day

Mayor of Sylvan Lake Sean McIntyre supports anti-bullying cause

Minister Rick Wilson poses with Katie at the Boys and Girls Club of Wetaskiwin, both wearing her Pink Shirt Day design. Facebook/ Boys and Girls Club of Wetaskiwin.
Wetaskiwin Boys and Girls club Pink Shirt day design focuses on kindness

Katie with the Boys and Girls Club of Wetaskiwin created this year’s Pink Shirt Day design.

Black Press File Photo
Valentine’s Day shooting in Maskwacis leaves one male in hospital, one male in custody

19-year-old Francis Edward Nepoose from Maskwacis has been charged with attempted murder.

Red Deer Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Anne Kirker is expected to sentence Satnam Singh Sandhu on Friday. Red Deer Advocate file photo
Updated: Sylvan Lake man pleads guilty to manslaughter for strangling wife in 2019

Kulvinder Sandhu was strangled and died in hospital several days later

Sentencing delayed in the stabbing death of Samantha Sharpe, of Sunchild First Nation. (Red Deer Advocate file photo)
Central Alberta man not criminally responsible for killing his father in 2020: judge

Psychiatrist testified Nicholas Johnson was psychotic when he killed his father

Most Read