The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, Government of Quebec and the Nunatsiavut Government jointly conducted the seventh biannual census of the George River Caribou Herd in July 2022. This year’s census results indicate the population remains at a vulnerable low, with an estimated 7,200 caribou. Overall, the population has declined by 11% since 2020, and by more than 98% since 2001.
Although overall population size decreased, the adult proportion of the population increased an average of 7% per year from 2018 to 2022, which is cause for optimism for the persistence and eventual recovery of this vital caribou herd.
The 2020 census results showed the first George River caribou population increase in over 25 years, from an estimated 5,500 caribou in 2018 to 8,100 caribou in 2020. Wildlife officials were cautiously optimistic about the increase, while noting it was mainly due to a summer of high birth rates and a population consisting of 35% calves, which had to survive their most vulnerable two years before maturing and contributing to population growth.
The herd’s range is remote, with low levels of human-related habitat disturbance and currently low wolf densities. The recent census indicates calves make up 22% of the total population, relatively similar to calf proportions in 2018 and 2016. Recent years have shown considerable improvements in both adult female survival and fall calf recruitment when compared to the years leading to the implementation of the hunting ban on George River caribou in 2013.
Despite these gains, the continued illegal harvest of George River caribou by a relatively small number of people continues to delay and threaten herd recovery. The goal of the current hunting ban is to prevent the complete loss of George River caribou, and to allow the herd to recover so Indigenous communities can practice caribou-related traditional activities without jeopardizing the sustainability of the herd for future generations.
The Resource Enforcement Division of the Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture works closely with wildlife enforcement from the province of Quebec and the federal Canadian Wildlife Service to make all reasonable efforts to protect Labrador’s caribou herds.