Gaspésie caribou females will go into enclosures in 2023
This text is taken from the Courrier de la Planète of December 20, 2022. To subscribe, click here.
The Quebec government is betting on an extreme strategy to try to avoid the disappearance of Gaspésie caribou: pregnant females will be captured in the first months of 2023 and placed in enclosures to give birth, learned The duty. The catastrophic situation of this population also illustrates the need to implement here key measures of the global “framework” which has just been adopted at the UN conference on biodiversity (COP15).
The caribou population, which essentially frequents the territory of Parc national de la Gaspésie and the areas located around this protected area, is in an almost desperate situation. It would have barely more than thirty animals, and its decline has been steadily increasing for several years now. Its extinction would mean the end of the last herd living south of the St. Lawrence.
To try to avoid this, the Ministry of the Environment, the Fight against Climate Change, Wildlife and Parks (MELCCFP) of Quebec will try from March, or even April 2023, to capture the females which must give birth in the spring, so that whelping takes place in a pen.
“Previously, four aerial overflights are planned from December to March to locate the caribou. The females will be spotted by helicopter, captured with a net gun and anesthetized by professionals, technicians and veterinarians. On the ground, an ultrasound will be carried out to certify the gestation, ”explains the ministry in a written response.
They will then be “helicopter transported under anesthesia to the enclosures where a team of professionals, technicians and veterinarians, will wake them up and take their vital signs before releasing them into the enclosures”. These females, after giving birth, will be kept in captivity until August or September with their fawn, before being released. According to what the MELCCFP specifies, the construction of the enclosures is not finished, but it should be « from the winter of 2023 ».
Professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Quebec at Rimouski and specialist in research on this threatened species, Martin-Hugues St-Laurent says he has confidence in the expertise of those who will be responsible for capturing deer. “We are deploying extreme strategies when it comes to captures and captivity. But in Quebec, we have been capturing caribou for several years, based on protocols and with experts who have received training,” he underlines.
According to him, this project can prevent the fawns, which are very vulnerable in their first weeks of life, from succumbing to the very heavy predation of bears and coyotes. “But you can’t just think in terms of enclosure. If we release these animals into a system that is still as altered as what we have today, we will not win. We will simply delay the inevitable. The strategy must therefore provide for the conservation of habitats.”
In this context, Mr. St-Laurent believes that Quebec must seize the opportunity to implement, for all caribou populations in the province, certain commitments included in the « post-2020 framework » which has just been adopted. at COP15 in Montreal.
He considers it urgent to better protect the forest habitat of the species, which is increasingly disturbed by the logging and mining industries. In Gaspésie, for example, industrial logging takes place right up to the limits of the national park.
It is also essential to restore degraded natural environments, for example with reforestation programs and the closing of forest roads, and to « reconnect » favorable habitats with each other. « We have the impression that the stars are aligned, with the targets set at COP15, but also the objectives of the fight against climate change », underlines the researcher.
The Innus of Essipit and Pessamit, who have been calling since 2020 for the creation of a protected area for caribou in the Pipmuacan sector, located northeast of Lac-Saint-Jean, however deplored the absence of an announcement concerning the species within the framework of the UN conference on biodiversity. The Legault government replies that it is “studying different scenarios as part of the caribou strategy” and that it will be presented by June 2023.
The president of Action boréale, Henri Jacob, fears the “abandonment” of isolated herds on the verge of extinction. This is the case of that of Val-d’Or, which has barely 9 animals, all in enclosures, or that of Charlevoix, which is limited to 20 caribou in captivity.
“The idea of enclosure is not necessarily bad, but the government has no plans for what happens next. You need a long-term recovery plan. For the moment, for example in Val-d’Or, we don’t know what will be done. We cannot simply release them into the same problematic habitat,” he argues.
In the case of this isolated herd in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, habitat disturbance is considered very serious by experts, and attempts to capture pregnant females, as is about to be done in Gaspésie, have been a failure.
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