Two rarely seen woodland caribou spotted in Montana

November 6, 2018

Two woodland caribou, a rarely seen member of the deer family, were spotted in northwest Montana, according to a Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks news release.

The two caribou spotted in northwest Montana are not part of the Idaho and Washington herd. Last week Canadian officials decided to move the six surviving caribou that still occasionally venture into the Idaho and Washington farther north.

“We did not know they were up here,” said Dillon Tabish, a spokesperson for MFWP. “They didn’t have radio collars on them.”

The two caribou - a bull and a cow - were first spotted by a hunter and area residents. The hunter took a photo and sent it to a MFWP biologist who confirmed that it was in fact a caribou.

“It’s 110 percent caribou,” Tabish said.

Neil Anderson, the MFWP Region 1 wildlife manager said the two animals likely came south from Canada. Anderson and others are working with Canadian biologists to determine what the next steps are, although Anderson said it’s likely officials will do nothing.

In April, an aerial survey of the South Selkirk Mountain caribou herd found only three surviving members, all female. Over the summer one of those animals was killed by a cougar.

In 2009 that herd had nearly 50 members.

Once Canadian officials move the surviving members of the South Selkirk Mountain caribou herd they hope to breed the animals in captivity at a pen north of Revelstoke, British Columbia, deep in the Canadian brush, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported Friday.

The sighting in Montana is the first confirmed caribou sighting since 2012, Tabish said.

“Right now everyone is marveling at it,” he said. “It’s a pretty neat moment for Montana. These sightings are few and far between unfortunately.”

Below is the full news release:

Kalispell, MT — Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks regional staff have received reports of a rare sight in northwest Montana.

Residents have recently documented sightings of woodland caribou near the U.S.-Canada border. The multiple sightings include the potential for a bull and a cow in separate locations.

Caribou, members of the deer family, are native to northwest Montana but have almost completely disappeared from the contiguous United States over the last half century.

Woodland caribou herds once stretched from central British Columbia to Idaho, Montana and Washington. The decline in population is largely attributed to high mortality linked to habitat fragmentation, alteration, loss of old growth forest, and subsequent predation impacts. Woodland caribou are now protected in the United States and British Columbia.

Caribou have been known to roam from the Selkirk and Purcell mountain ranges in southern B.C into Montana, Idaho and Washington but the occurrences have become increasingly rare.

Caribou are similar in size to mule deer but have different coloration, large round hooves and unique antlers. Even cow caribou can have visible small antlers.

“There are three weeks left of big-game hunting season in Montana. Hunters are reminded to be sure of their target and beyond,” said Neil Anderson, FWP Region 1 wildlife manager.

After confirming reports of the recent sightings, Montana FWP contacted wildlife biologists in British Columbia and informed them of the sightings. FWP will continue to work closely with partners in British Columbia on the conservation of the species.

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