With Santa's reindeer in the limelight for the past few days, everyone has caribou on the brain.
But whether you call them caribou or reindeer, the fact remains that soon we may not be calling them anything at all. A new report says that the world's biggest herd has dropped in number from nearly a million to a mere 74,000 between the early 1990s and 2010, the International Business Times reports.
The Department of Environment and Conservation told the newspaper that the population of the George River herd, which lives from Quebec to Labrador, has plummeted by as much as 92%, from about 900,000 in the early 1990s to an estimated 74,000 in 2010.
Although herd numbers fluctuate wildly, the International Business Times said, this drop is related to man-made problems, which may or may not swing back cyclically. They make their home in the boreal woodlands and the barren grasslands of the tundra.
"Of course populations are cyclical and numbers go up and down," Armand MacKenzie, an Innu, told the International Business Times. "70 years ago our parents remember when there were only a few caribou and our people were dying of starvation. But nowadays what is different—and what is crucial—is the intervention of unnatural elements."
He said that mining, logging and flooding of caribou reproduction areas for various industrial projects interfered with their ability to migrate and reproduce.
"A changing climate is adding additional stress," wrote wildlife biologist Justina C. Ray, executive director and senior scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, in The New York Times on December 23. "More winter rain and ice make it difficult for them to dig for the food that lies under the snow. The timing between caribou arrivals on calving grounds and spring plant growth, calibrated over thousands of years, are more and more mismatched, threatening calf survival. Unpredictable weather patterns are increasing mortality as well, and the escalating intensity and frequency of fires in forests and on the tundra present an additional threat."
The threat to caribou has been documented in the past, but this most recent report contains alarming data.