Herd's-eye view: Seeing the world from a caribou's perspective
Published Wednesday, April 19, 2017 10:32PM EDT
With their chins bobbing along above the camera as they travel in a remote area of Canada’s North, a group of female caribou are providing researchers with the rare opportunity to see the world through their point-of-view.
Researchers from Laval University in Quebec City outfitted 24 pregnant Leaf River Caribou in the Nunavik region of northern Quebec with cameras fastened to collars. The academics are using video recorded by the cameras to study the caribou’s newborn calves.
“We needed to find a way to measure calf survival in a place that is very remote where we can’t be in the field every day and monitoring calf on a day-to-day basis,” Steeve Cote, one of the group’s researchers, told CTV News.
The university researchers are attempting to predict how the caribou population will change over time and why some calves survive while others don’t. They’re following this particular herd because their numbers have dropped to half of what they once were.
“We need to understand why, because if survival is not good, there is not a new female or a male to replace the ones that are dying,” another researcher, Barbara Vuillaume, explained.
Despite the introduction of new hunting rules by different levels of government, the Leaf River Caribou isn’t the only herd experiencing challenges.
“Many populations of caribou are threatened and most of them are in decline,” the researchers state on their website. “In Canada, migratory caribou are a fundamental element of the ecology, economy and culture of a vast territory stretching from Newfoundland to the Yukon.”
The group is examining different factors that could impact caribou populations, including hunting, predation and climate change.
A few aboriginal groups have expressed concern over the collaring of wild animals, but Cote said the GPS-equipped cameras attached to the caribou’s collars are lightweight and less invasive than capturing the calves for observation. He said the team travelled into the area by helicopter and were able to attach the cameras with little stress to the herd.
“What is really cool is that the group [of caribou] stays really around,” Cote said. “Caribou are really curious. When we release the female she is able to go away with the group.”
The cameras will turn on and off over the course of several months before the researchers collect them on a set date in the fall. Cote said the intimate footage will provide them with valuable information about the animals’ habits that may help them figure out what is causing some calves to die so early.
“We can see what type of habitat the animal was in and what type of plant the animal was eating,” he said.
This won’t be the first time the researchers have used the cameras to watch caribou’s calves. Last spring, 14 pregnant caribous were equipped with cameras on their collars. According to the subsequent images, 64 per cent of the studied calves managed to survive those first six months of life.
With a report from CTV News’ Genevieve Beauchemin