Caribou Migration Monitoring by Satellite Telemetry

Two herds of migratory caribou are present in Québec: the George River Herd and the Leaf River Herd. The two populations have distinct distribution areas and demographics. Therefore, they are subject to independent monitoring adapted to their characteristics.

The conservation, monitoring and study of caribou require knowledge of their seasonal migrations. Satellite telemetry constitutes the basis of population monitoring programs implemented by Ministry biologists and wildlife technicians, in partnership with the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Partnerships with academics are also valued to maximize data use in scientific research projects. Findings will be used to direct efforts to manage and conserve the herds.

Currently, some 200 migratory caribou in the two herds found in Québec and Labrador have been fitted with telemetric satellite collars. Telemetric monitoring has been used for caribou populations since the 1960s; but it was not until 1991 that access to satellite technology became available for wildlife management purposes. Recent technological developments have made it possible to monitor a larger number of high-performance telemetric collars and have facilitated the study of several aspects of caribou biology.

Telemetric data show that migratory caribou cover an average distance of 2,000 to 6,000 kilometres during a spectacular yearly migration from wintering areas in the boreal forest to the calving grounds in the tundra. The government of Quebec has published for a long time a visual representation of telemetric data collected from the monitoring program but interrupted this service due to conservation needs of migratory caribou populations. Data from telemetry monitoring is now limited to monitoring and scientific research needs.

Using a sufficient number of collars on individuals of both sexes, aerial surveys have been conducted based on “capture-mark-recapture” techniques. According to the most recent population survey completed in 2018, the George River Herd comprised roughly 5,500 caribou. This is a 38% decline from the previous survey (2016), and 99% since 1993, the year of most abundant survey result, when this population was estimated at approximately 820,00 caribou. Carried out in 2016, the latest survey of the Leaf River Herd showed a herd size of 199,000 caribou, a 67% decrease compared to 600,000 individuals estimated in 2001. The annual monitoring of the survival rates of adults and of the calf to female ratio suggests that this herd was in decline this year and estimated at 187,000 in November 2018 by the population modeling derived from the 2016 aerial survey result.