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Reindeer need love, too

Many reindeer in Canada — also known as caribou — face local extinction. This holiday season, we bring you stories of how different communities are trying to save them

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An adult caribou and two calfs on the side of a gravel road in the forest, looking towards the camera

The big jolly guy with the white hair and beard may be a mythical figure, but for many people, he’s synonymous with the season.

A song or two aside, little attention is paid to the helpers who help Santa get from one place to another. That’s right, I’m talking about the real-life holiday heroes: reindeer — also known as caribou.

The thing is, many caribou herds in Canada are at risk of local extinction. But a number of communities across the country haven’t forgotten about the ungulates — and are determined to save them and their habitats.

Take B.C. reporter Sarah Cox’s recent feature from southeast British Columbia, for example. Her story takes a look at what locals call the ’boo shack, which could become a multimillion-dollar effort to rescue one of North America’s last deep-snow caribou herds
 
An illustration of a caribou calf from the endangered Central Selkirk deep-snow caribou herd
Inside the fight to save one of North America’s last deep-snow caribou herds
Decades of industrial logging — clearcuts, logging roads — and other disturbances have left caribou vulnerable to wolves and other predators. The critically endangered Central Selkirk caribou herd has a mere two dozen animals, not including seven calves born this year (we aren’t counting an ailing newborn). Instead of choosing to say bye to the herd, everyone — including snowmobilers, heli-skiers, businesses, Indigenous communities, the township of Nakusp and the B.C. government — chose to act and try to recover an animal that has lived in the area since the end of the last Ice Age.

For B.C.’s boreal caribou, more than 80 per cent of whom live on Treaty 8 territory, logging and oil and gas development have resulted in thousands of seismic lines cutting through forests.
 
An aerial view of seismic lines visible in the snow-covered ground of Treaty 8 territory. The corridors make life difficult for boreal caribou.

The caribou, called medzih in Dene, find these carved-up corridors extremely convenient to get around, much to their detriment, editor Michelle Cyca writes. Members of Fort Nelson First Nation, who have lived with the medzih for thousands of years, are on a mission to heal the ravaged landscape, one tree at a time — and to share their rewilding techniques with other First Nations.

Check out Sarah’s on-the-ground feature here, and Michelle’s piece, with gorgeous photos of the medzih by Ryan Dickie, here

Take care and remember the reindeer,

Karan Saxena
Audience engagement editor
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P.S. There’s a week left to give us what you can to support our fierce public-interest journalism on reindeer the natural world in Canada — and get a 2023 tax receipt. Join the more than 900 people who have generously donated. What’s more? Your donation will be matched!
 
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All of us at The Narwhal, taking a wee break for the holidays (we’ll get to your emails as soon as we’re back on Jan. 2!). Tell your friends to sign up for our newsletter — so we can bring them some fresh stories about the natural world in the new year.
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