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Parks Canada hosting sessions on caribou captive breeding proposal

The goal of the captive breeding program is to secure a small number of caribou from source herds with the closest genetic and behavioural match to the wild herds.

JASPER – Parks Canada is hosting public sessions this month on plans to rebuild precarious caribou populations by way of captive breeding.

A virtual session – parkscanada.gc.ca/caribou-jasper – will be held from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 23, and an in-person session will be hosted from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Monday, June 27, at Forest Park Hotel in Jasper.

“Each session will include a panel presentation and the opportunity to ask questions, provide feedback and discuss the proposal with park staff,” said Kevin Gedling, acting public relations and communications officer for Jasper National Park.

Parks Canada’s plan is to breed caribou in captivity at a fenced facility to be built near Athabasca Falls, with a top priority to boost the 45-member Tonquin herd to a self-sustaining population of at least 200 animals.

A breeding facility will include an animal treatment lab, handling barn and several fenced pens. The next step would involve securing and capturing wild animals between the months of December and February to be transported to the breeding facility.

The goal is to get a small number of caribou from source herds with the closest genetic and behavioural match to the wild herds. The caribou are listed as endangered.

The project aims to produce 14-18 female yearlings a year, with anywhere from 11 to 15 to be released. Research indicates 10-20 females per year is possible.

The 45-member Tonquin herd has an estimated nine female caribou, while the Brazeau herd has fewer than 15 caribou, with the number of female caribou thought to be fewer than three.

With such low female numbers, these herds will not produce enough calves each year to grow the herds.

The À La Pêche herd on Jasper’s northern boundary is a partially migratory group of about 150 animals primarily managed by the province of Alberta. Some animals in the herd stay in Jasper year-round, some stay in the foothills and some migrate back and forth.

A fourth Jasper herd, known as the Maligne, was declared extirpated in 2020. The carcass of the last surviving breeding female was discovered buried in snow in 2018 and there have been no sightings of the herd since. It’s believed a wolverine killed it.

Banff National Park’s remnant caribou herd was wiped out in an avalanche north of Lake Louise in 2009.

Jasper was home to hundreds of caribou in the 1960s and today there are fewer than 60 remaining.

For those who can’t make either of the public sessions, information is available at parkscanada.gc.ca/caribou-jasper. Comments can also be submitted comments to caribou@pc.gc.ca.

Parks Canada will accept comments on the proposal until Sept. 2, 2022.