Wolves and Caribou – both at risk in a Grand Research Project

It was good news this past week that up to six wolves would be transferred to Isle Royale to help in moose population control and allow the balsam fir to recover from over browsing. The wolves decimated the Michipicoten Island Woodland Caribou herd, and the remaining 15 were transferred to the Slate Islands (9) and Caribou Island (6) after pressure from Michipicoten First Nation (MFN) and a number of concerned Wawa residents. There is no word on the wolves that will remain on Michipicoten Island.


Despite thoughts from the public, MFN and the concerned citizens group, last January it was determined by the MNRF to remove the caribou instead of the wolves. Without their primary food source, caribou – these wolves were left to prey on the next protein source, beaver. How successful that would be? Wawa-news was assured by several trappers, this would not be a reliable source of food for the wolves. In fact, in the slide to the right, the MNRF asks, “How long until food competition results in strife/cannibalism among the wolves?”


As much as wolves are predators, and they only did what was expected – eat the best and easiest food source – caribou… It is a real shame that they would be watched to see if they would fight and kill each other to survive – cannibalism. Is this wildlife management with any ethics – doom two species to death.


So both creatures were been put into jeopardy. In hindsight, and reading many of the studies available online about caribou – it is a foregone conclusion that wolves above a certain ratio, can overkill their food source – and then they move on to another food source. That makes sense. But in a isolated area, the wolves followed and killed caribou until they were almost gone. The question has always been, “Why did the MNRF not move the wolves earlier?”. Especially since it has been documented that caribou are a fragile species and harder to translocate than wolves. In fact, one caribou was euthanized after being transferred to the Slate Islands.


To make matters worse about the Lake Superior Caribou, a student at Trent University, Kirsten Solmundson is studying the genetic history of Ontario’s Southern Caribou. Evidence increasingly suggests that the caribou of Lake Superior are genetically unique. That would mean that the remaining Lake Superior Caribou (Slate Island, Caribou Island, Pukaskwa Park, and the northern edge of Lake Superior) are the last of their kind. Extinction is real, and these few animals are on the brink of being forever gone.


When the caribou was moved from the Slate Islands to Michipicoten Island in the early 80’s to expand, reseed the population – without a present predator population there, the caribou flourished. It grew to an unprecedented 700+ animals, still without overbrowsing the island. It wasn’t until the wolves arrived via ice bridge, did the population begin to decrease. The transfer back of animals to the Slate Islands was made, and now they are at risk again.


On January 31st it was confirmed with satellite imagery that an ice bridge has now formed between the mainland and the Slate Islands. Wolves are now free to make their way to easy prey. The call has gone out for everyone living near the Slate Islands to watch for wolf sign. The MNRF is monitoring the caribou population via GPS collared females. The bulls and calves may die before a population decrease is noted. LakeSuperiorCaribou notes ” Wolves are extremely efficient at eliminating caribou calves. The Slate Islands witnessed the elimination of whole calf-years in the recent past. The scientific literature reflects this.” The first and most important line of defense for the caribou living on the Slate Islands is the people who visit the lake’s shore and the Slate Islands. LakeSuperiorCaribou ask for those visitors to keep their eyes and ears open for any wolf sign. They are asked to report anything that may mean wolves are on the Slate Islands to Terrace Bay CAO, Jonathan Hall, [email protected], and to @SuperiorCaribou, immediately! Personal information will not be released if not desired.


LakeSuperiorCaribou states, “It’s never ideal to have to intervene in nature to ensure the survival of a species. We’ve messed things up so badly now, though, that we’re forced to recognize that if we want caribou to remain in their traditional home on the Lake Superior Coast, intervention will be necessary for time to time; this is simply a fact. Remember: Predator control is never necessarily lethal. Executed promptly and competently, this strategy can mean the loss of no animal lives, and a minimum of impact otherwise to the animals themselves. Only we can ensure the survival of the Lake Superior Caribou. Let’s commit to their survival”.


Michipicoten Island has proven to be a favorable home for the Lake Superior Caribou. The wolves that are there, ALL of them should be removed. With the removal of the Alpha male and Alpha female as has been reported – will throw the remaining animals into confusion. Without leaders to teach, the less- experienced are left to fend on their own. Then the caribou from the Slate Islands can be returned – because the proximity of the islands to the mainland is too close for comfort and safety. Wolves will always be able to reach Michipicoten in years of heavy ice, but now perhaps better management would be put in place.


These are not rhinos, elephants, or tigers in a far away country that are on the brink of extinction. These are our caribou, the symbol that we see on every Canadian quarter. All the residents on the shores of Lake Superior should be incensed at the situation, and work to protect this fragile ghost of the wilderness; and demand accountability in this fiasco of wildlife management.



One comment

  1. Horrible news about Slate ice bridge but everyone expected it. Who’s running the show up there anyway?