After two years of improved adult survival and a particularly good calving year in 2020, the George River Caribou Herd recorded the first population increase in over 25 years. The increase brings cautious optimism about the future of the herd, which has been under a full hunting ban since 2013.
While still only one per cent of the historic high of over 750,000 caribou, results from the 2020 George River Caribou census estimate population of the herd to be 8,100 animals, compared to the estimate of 5,500 recorded during the most recent survey conducted in 2018. Wildlife officials with Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture carried out the census this summer in partnership with provincial wildlife officials from Quebec.
Census data revealed 35 per cent of the population are calves, with a healthy calf/female ratio of 69 calves per 100 females. This is the highest calf production recorded in the past decade. As a result of improved natural survival and reduced illegal harvest, the decline in adult mortality since 2018 has also contributed to the overall increase.
Maintaining the hunting ban, along with careful stewardship, is essential at this critical point in the caribou population cycle. If adult survival remains high and environmental conditions continue to favour calf production, the herd will have its first opportunity to recover from these historic lows.