George River caribou herd shows first population gain in over 25 years

Herd population is estimated to be 8,100 animals, up from 5,500 in 2018. This is great news compared to the recent news that Jasper National Park is losing its herds.

A summer “baby boom” in the long-struggling George River caribou herd in Labrador and Quebec has led to an increase in population numbers — its first in more than 25 years.

A population census released Thursday by wildlife officials in Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec estimates the herd’s population to be 8,100 animals, up from 2018’s estimate of 5,500 animals. It’s a big gain, but a far cry from the herd’s historic high of more than 750,000 animals.

“When we were informed last week, it was hard to contain myself,” said Gregory Flowers, minister of lands and natural resources with the Nunatsiavut government, Labrador’s Inuit government.

Hunting the George River herd has been banned since 2013. Before then, the annual days-long caribou hunt was an important source of food for the Inuit along Labrador’s north coast, Flowers said in an interview.

The numbers released Thursday show calves now make up 35 per cent of the herd, with a healthy female population supporting them. It’s the calves, most of them born in June 2020, that are driving the spike in numbers, Newfoundland and Labrador director of wildlife Blair Adams said in a presentation accompanying Thursday’s census release.

Both Adams and Flowers said the hunting ban should remain. “We can’t hurry up and jump the gun and say that we’re going to harvest the George River caribou. It don’t work that way,” Flowers said.

“If we respect the caribou, respect the ban, I think it’ll be great for all Indigenous people in the future.”

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