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VIDEO: Caribou tussle seen as feeding program success brings wildlife closer to humans

A local man was driving to work recently and came across a herd of caribou alongside the road and managed to capture some video of how nature works north of Prince George near the Mackenzie junction.

A local man was driving to work recently and came across a herd of caribou alongside the road and managed to capture some video of how nature works north of Prince George near the Mackenzie junction.

“I know I am pretty lucky to see the caribou practicing their jousting skills,” Robert Dalgleish said. “I’m glad I thought to shoot the video when I did. Seeing that third male come at the pair was pretty cool.”

That opportunity to see such a rare sight was brought about because of a feeding program at the Kennedy Siding that has been around since 2014 under the management of wildlife biologist Doug Heard.

Caribou population numbers have been on the decline for decades as a result of moose and deer population increases, resulting in the increase of the wolf population.

As the moose and deer became food for the wolf, so did the caribou but their numbers didn’t go up.

“Caribou numbers have been ticking down for a long time,” Heard said. “The concept is through direct predation. It’s just too high to be sustainable by caribou.”

As the threat of the wolf increased, the behaviour of the caribou changed, Heard explained.

The caribou would avoid their regular feeding areas because the wolves were there.

A good example of that is moose live in low-lying areas so that would bring the wolf. Caribou live in low-lying areas, too, making them a target for the wolves. In the low-lying areas there would be fresh, green highly-nutritious plants that would be available in abundance in springtime giving the caribou a much needed boost to their winter recovery but because the wolves would also be present the caribou would then avoid that area.

Trying not to starve took priority and that made an impact on the population of the caribou.

The Kennedy Siding feeding program takes place in the fall to help fatten up the caribou in preparation for winter and allow a healthy rutting season to take place.

“We’re in the eight year of the program,” Heard said, who has been a caribou research scientist for the last 40 years. “We were looking at ways on how to reduce the decline and promote recovery of caribou numbers in Central and Southern BC, especially.”

The program has been a success, with population on the rise.

Because the wolves have been mostly eliminated in the area by a provincial government program and the caribou know they are safe this has allowed people like Dalgleish to observe the caribou in their natural habitat.

To see the study details and results visit https://peerj.com/articles/10708.pdf.