Revelstoke-area caribou captured and released into maternity pen

A dozen caribou were put into a maternity pen located on the west side of Lake Revelstoke in order to protect them from predatators

Workers with the Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild project release pregnant caribou cows they caught on Mar. 24 into a protective pen north of Revelstoke. The project aims to protect the cows and their offspring through the critical months of pregnancy and the first weeks of the calves’ lives.

Organizers of the Mar. 24 caribou round-up say the effort to transplant a dozen mountain caribou into a 6.5-hectare maternity pen located on the west side of Lake Revelstoke was a success.

In an exhausting day-long drive, professionals and volunteers gathered up 10 caribou cows and two yearlings. Of them, nine are pregnant.

Revelstoke Times Review readers will be familiar with the Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild (RCRW) maternity penning project.

In early 2013, our newspaper coordinated an eight-part column series on the project, as part of the successful drive to get $100,000 in funding from the social-media-based Shell Fuelling Change program.

The maternity penning project’s concept is simple. Mountain caribou research shows calf mortality is driven significantly by predation in the first months of their lives.

The project captures and places cows into a 6.5-hectare pen that is protected by fencing, a visual barrier, electronic sensing equipment and human shepherds.

The pregnant cows spend several months inside and for about a month  after they give birth. It’s based partially on a successful program in the Yukon.

The project was notable locally because it got a broad spectrum of mountain caribou stakeholders on board, including snowmobilers, environmentalists, forestry stakeholders, Parks Canada, backcountry recreations groups and government ministries. Not all have seen eye-to-eye on caribou issues in the past.

Kevin Bollefer, a Revelstoke-based forester, is the treasurer with the RCRW, and was there wrangling caribou last Monday.

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PHOTO: Professional forester Kevin Bollefer helps transport a caribou to the pen with the help of a sled. Rob Buchanan/RCRW

 

He called the day a big success: “It went awesome,” he said. “Everything went as planned; there were no hiccups.”

Critically, the caribou have started eating.

“They’ve eaten all the food; that’s a sign that they’ve adapted and they’re comfortable in their surroundings,” Bollefer said. “That’s really the critical part; to get the animals in and released and not harassed.”

The food is a big stash of lichen that was collected by a horde of volunteers from the forests and glades at Revelstoke Mountain Resort.

The caribou will be transitioned slowly to a pellet-based diet.

Four veterinarians and a small group of volunteers took the caribou from the nearby forests. The three females who are not pregnant were included to avoid breaking up the herd and leaving lone animals behind.

At the pen, four shepherds will take shifts watching over them 24-hours a day. They have motion-detecting sensors at their disposal. Two of the shepherds are John Flaa and Adam Christie, both Revelstoke residents. They will be joined by Bert Marchand of the Okanagan Indian Band and Len Edwards of the Splatsin people.

The RCRW has been working on the project for years, but funding fell into place just before the critical transplant period closed this year. The funding included a late $150,000 donation from the Habitat Stewardship Program – a federal program – amongst many other sources.

RCRW only has funding for this year and will have to raise more to continue.

“Our goal is to show that maternity penning is an option for the recovery of caribou,” Bollefer said.

He said the group can rest easier now that the critical transplant day is over. The next big project is radio collaring the calves, so that they can be tracked after leaving the pen.

Bollefer said the experience was incredible.

“It’s just brought the community together and it’s just a cool thing to be a part of,” Bollefer said. “I just can’t stress how we couldn’t have done it with all these different people and their expertise.”

They plan to keep the animals in the pen until the calves are about four weeks old, which will be in the middle of July. Since they were taken from the nearby forest, it’ll just be a matter of opening up the gates and shooing them off.

The location of the pen is semi-remote. Although it’s relatively well-known around Revelstoke, organizers are keeping it low key.

For more on the project, see the Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild blog, which includes a photo gallery and the 2013 column series from the Times Review.

 

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