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Government Says It Won’t Try to Save Starving Caribou

September 30, 1987

YELLOWKNIFE, Northwest Territories (AP) _ The government says it will not try to save 800 stranded caribou starving to death on a tiny island.

Red Pedersen, the Northwest Territories’ minister of renewable resources, said Tuesday that several options had been considered, including trying to feed the animals, hunt them or chase them off Rideout Island, about 420 miles northwest of Yellowknife in the Bathurst Inlet.

″Any attempts to capture or chase the animals will, without doubt, result in death by exhaustion,″ Pedersen said.

″Artificial feeding until the ice forms in early November will just postpone their deaths, because none of the animals will have accumulated the muscle and fat reserves normally required to survive the winter,″ he added. ″Shooting the animals for food isn’t a viable option since the meat is unfit for human consumption,″ Pedersen said.

The animals apparently have been stuck on Rideout Island since the ice connecting it to the mainland broke up in early July.

At least 60 animals have died. Many were found floating in the sea. Most of those still living are too weak to swim to the mainland, less than two miles away, or to a larger island where food is available.

Rideout Island has been a traditional grazing ground for the Bathurst caribou herd in spring and summer, but it has been stripped of lichen and small shrubs. Officials believe this is because of the herd’s growing numbers.

The herd has more than doubled over the last five years to about 400,000. They roam from the northern tip of Great Slave Lake to Bathurst Inlet.

Biologists don’t understand why the animals didn’t move to greener pastures earlier or why those still strong enough to swim refused to budge.

Wildlife officials have been studying the animals’ plight since hunters first reported seeing them in mid-September.

Bob Wooley, an assistant deputy minister of renewable resources, said the department decided against a mercy kill because it would be ″a messy and ugly thing to do.″

″I don’t think it would be any less or more humane than allowing them to starve to death,″ he said. ″There might be the odd one that can still make it out. If we go in and slaughter the whole herd, we guarantee that none will.″

Frank Miller, a caribou expert with the Canadian Wildlife Service in Edmonton, said the caribous’ behavior ″may be tied to long-term survival strategies which mean, in the short run, that some animals must suffer.″

″I would think there is some underlying driving force in the animal that is making it do this,″ he said.

John McCullum of the Ecology North environmental group said that intervening ″to save a few hundred caribou when there’s hundreds out there doesn’t make a lot of sense.″

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