Alberta's Woodland Caribou
In 1985 woodland caribou were added to Alberta's endangered wildlife list. Their numbers have been declining since early this century. Today, fewer than 7,000 remain, sparsely distributed over northern and west-central Alberta.
Most remain in forested habitats year-round. The mountain population of caribou migrates 80 km or more between their forested foothills winter range and alpine summer range.
Adult bulls weigh up to 270 kg but average about 180 kg. Cows average 115 kg. Both males and females grow antlers but cows' are shorter and have fewer points.
Caribou's major food sources are ground and tree lichens. It takes 80 to 150 years for a forest to grow enough lichens for caribou. They also eat shrubs, grasses and willows.
Caribou mate in early to mid-October. Calves are born by early June. A cow doesn't mate or breed until she's two-and-a-half and will usually have one calf per year.
Logging, coal mining and oil and gas exploration have greatly reduced the woodland caribou's habitat. When large areas of old-growth coniferous forests are logged, moose, deer and elk populations increase. As their prey become more plentiful, more wolves move in. Caribou are most vulnerable to wolves so they suffer the greatest losses.
This increased predation, triggered by resource exploitation that fails to take Caribou needs into account, along with overhunting -- legal and illegal -- are the main reasons for the decline of woodland caribou in their southern range.
Alberta Environmental Protection's wildlife management branch has enlisted the help of the oil, gas and forestry industries to protect caribou habitat. The branch also hopes to reduce wolf predation and illegal hunting. Many caribou have been fitted with radio collars to aid biologists with data collection.
It is illegal to kill or disturb caribou at any time in Alberta.
Alberta Environmental Protection, Fish & Wildlife Branch.
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