The Columbia North mountain caribou herd in the Revelstoke area will be getting another female member, as Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development biologists discovered another female calf in the now depleted South Purcell herd.
The calf was discovered near Kimberley.
This is not going to do anything to change the dire situation for the South Purcell herd, says biologist Leo De Groot, but it is one positive in a sad situation.
“We knew last March that the South Purcell population had crashed from 16 animals to four,” he said. “All four were collared in April. The decision was made to at least move the female (up to the North Columbia herd).”
They thought there were two bulls left, but then another calf was discovered. At first, the animal was believed to be a male.
But a month ago, after a closer look from a helicopter, it was discovered that an animal they thought was a male may in fact be a female.
“A couple of weeks ago we got some more photos, using a telephoto lens from a helicopter and deducted that it was a calf, and female,” De Groot said.
He says that when the thought was that there was only males left, there was no real biological value to moving them — just a few males can do the breeding in the North Columbia herd.
“It’s stressful to move them into a foreign environment, so just leave them where they are. Actually one of the males is so big he probably wouldn’t fit in the helicopter. But the female is useful to another population. It makes sense to move her to the North Columbia.”
The calf will have some company in the maternity pen project at Revelstoke. De Groot says that one cow and calf were released from the pens earlier this year but the cow was killed by wolves.
“The calf actually returned to the pens, it’s the only place she knew. The gates were opened and the calf went in.
“A month ago when we moved the other three animals from the southern herds, the calf appeared to be pretty happy.”
Right now, De Groot says that the newly discovered female calf is hanging around with a younger male.
“If we can catch this bull that the calf is with, we’ll take it as well, otherwise the bulls will be left to live out their lives.”
He says it’s not unusual for a female and younger male to stay together, as caribou are herd animals. Older males will often be more solitary, which is the case with the group near Kimberley.
So the female will be joining the North Columbia herd, which is at 150 animals.
“It’s not going to make any difference for the South Purcell herd which is really sad,” De Groot said. “But it’s one more female for Columbia North, so that’s the consolation. But unfortunately we are losing the last two southern herds.”
Eddie Petryshen from Wildsight says that he agrees that another female going to the Columbia North herd is a positive in general.
As for the South Purcell herd, “We are in a situation that is desperate.”