Peary

Banks-VictoriaEastern Queen ElizabethPrince of Wales - Somerset - BoothWestern Queen Elizabeth

The listing agreement by the NWT Conference of Management Authorities noted assessment evidence that both the population size and nature of the decline of Peary caribou meant that they could disappear from the territory within the lifetime of a child.

The committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), downgraded the level of threat to Peary Caribou in 2015 from endangered to threatened. A national recovery strategy is now being developed.

These are the smallest and northernmost of the caribou in Canada. They live on several of the Arctic islands in Canada, in both the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, and some spend at least part of their time on the mainland, especially the Boothia Peninsula in Nunavut. The range is estimated at 1.9 million square kilometres. That’s bigger than all but 15 of the world’s countries. They are thought to have once lived in northwest Greenland too, and may sometimes cross over from Ellesmere Island. They may be found on any of the Arctic Islands and sometimes on the mainland too. There are reports of them having been seen as far west as Old Crow, Yukon. They are typically seen in small groups of about ten animals.

They are lighter coloured than other caribou that live around them, turning from grey to white in winter. They have shorter muzzles and shorter legs than other caribou. On the islands where they live, there are no trees. They eat grasses, shrub willow, and other low-growing vegetation. Unlike other caribou, they don’t eat much lichen, because it does not grow much where they live. Food can be hard to find in their home range, and that difficulty can be increased by rain or sudden thaws that then freeze into layers of ice, making it more difficult for the caribou to reach the food beneath. Those ice layers can reportedly reach two inches of thickness.

The adult population was estimated at slightly over 13,000 animals in 2015, but the entire range has never been surveyed in a single season, and some areas have not been surveyed for many years, so the population estimate has a low level of certainty. The population has dropped as low as an estimated 5,400 in 1996. At the time, there were serious proposals to rescue a breeding stock of the caribou that could be established as a captive herd in case they died out in the wild. Numbers of caribou appear to be either increasing, declining or stable depending on where they are.

Sometimes caribou cross the sea ice from one island to another, and some appear to migrate to the mainland in winter. The migrations allow them to expand their range, and mix more genetically. There are concerns that climate change and increased icebreaker traffic in the area may either prevent the caribou from making the crossings, or that they might die attempting to cross.

Peary caribou were listed as Endangered under the Species at Risk Act in February 2011. In 2012, the NWT Species at Risk Committee designated Peary caribou as Threatened in the Northwest Territories and in 2014 Peary caribou were listed as Threatened in the NWT under the territorial Species at Risk (NWT) Act. In 2015, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Species in Canada (COSEWIC) assessed Peary caribou as Threatened. A national recovery strategy is now being developed.

Peary caribou are hunted by local people, but they have imposed low quotas to help protect the populations. In some parts of the caribou’s range such as Axel Heiberg Island they are not hunted at all, as no communities are close enough to make the effort worthwhile. The Government of Nunavut proposed a management plan (see under related resources below) splitting Peary Caribou in Nunavut into ten management units and imposing total allowable harvests. Despite years of consultations with affected communities, there is no consensus on the management plan. The Peary caribou are split into four management units by the Committee of the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), based on genetic variations, and on where the caribou tend to travel. The four units are named after the islands/mainland features where the caribou live: Banks-Victoria; western Queen Elizabeth; eastern Queen Elizabeth; and Prince of Wales-Somerset-Boothia. The communities of Paulatuk, Sachs Harbour, and Ulukhaktok (NWT) and Grise Fiord, Resolute Bay, Cambridge Bay, Gjoa Haven and Taloyoak (NU) are within the Peary caribou range.

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Related resources

Biotic interactions govern the distribution of coexisting ungulates in the Arctic Archipelago – A case for conservation planning

An academic paper looking at what might best predict habitat for Peary caribou and muskox in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. the paper models what it considers likely key habitat for both species in late winter, and notes that most of this habitat is outside of protected areas.
(2020)

Usage: Attribution
Format: web

PearyRange managementClimate change

Aerial Survey of Muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus) and Peary Caribou (Rangifer tarandus pearyi) on Northwest Victoria Island, April-May 2015

A 2019 report on a 2016 sruvey of Peary Caribou and muskoxen on northwest Victoria Island. Thousands of muskoxen were seen, but only two caribou.
Government of the Northwest Territories (2019)

Usage: Non-commercial with attribution
Format: pdf

PearyNatural factors

Detection of rain-on-snow (ROS) events and ice layer formation using passive microwave radiometry: A context for Peary caribou habitat in the Canadian Arctic

A 2017 academic paper that talks about the relationship between incidents of rain-on-snow and icing and Peary caribou populations.
(2017)


Format: pdf

Peary

Management Plan for Peary Caribou in Nunavut

A 2017 lengthy Nunavut government submission to the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board on a management plan for Peary Caribou in Nunavut. The plan was to run from 2014-2020. It divides the caribou in Nunavut into nine different management units, and makes recommendations on harvest for each unit, and some other management actions that cover the whole population. Also includes a lot of feedback from community sources as it includes a consultation report.
(2017)

Usage: Non-commercial with attribution
Format: pdf

PearyManaging hunting

Loss of connectivity among island-dwelling Peary caribou following sea ice decline

2016 scientific paper on the potential of climate change to make Peary caribou on the Canadian Arctic islands more isolated due to reduced periods of safe sea ice crossings. This isolation could make them more vulnerable.
Various (2016)

Usage: Non-commercial with attribution
Format: web

Peary

Peary Caribou and Muskox Survey of the Melville-Prince Patrick Complex, Northwest Territories and Nunavut Summer 2012

A 21-page 2016 report on a 2012 aerial survey of Peary caribou and muskoxen on several Arctic islands shared by the NWT and Nunavut.
Government of the Northwest Territories (2016)

Usage: Non-commercial with attribution
Format: pdf

PearyWestern Queen ElizabethNatural factors

Distribution and abundance of Peary caribou (Rangifer tarandus pearyi) and muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus) on Devon Island, March 20

A poster from 2016 that talks about Peary caribou on Devon Island, although the focus is on Muskoxen numbers, and the potential to harvest more of them
Government of Nunavut (2016)


Format: pdf

Peary

Peary caribou and barren-ground caribou COSEWIC assessment and status report: chapter 10

This 2015 chapter from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada analyzes the available information on threats to Peary Caribou and barren-ground caribou
Environment and Climate Change Canada (2015)

Usage: Non-commercial with attribution
Format: web

Barren-groundPeary

COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Peary Caribou Rangifer tarandus pearyi in Canada

A 2015 assessment and status report on Peary caribou from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).
Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) (2015)


Format: pdf

Peary

FACT SHEET: Peary Caribou

A 2015 three-page fact sheet on Peary caribou produced by the Canadian government.
Environment and Climate Change Canada (2015)

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Format: pdf

Peary

Aerial Survey of Peary Caribou and Muskoxen on Banks Island, July 2014

A 24-page report of an aerial survey of Peary caribou and muskoxen on Banks Island in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region of the Northwest Territories.
Government of the Northwest Territories (2014)

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Format: pdf

PearyBanks-VictoriaNatural factors

Observation of Arctic island barren-ground caribou (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus) migratory movement delay due to human induced sea-ice breaking

A short 2013 paper on observations of the behaviour of the Dolphin and Union Herd when confronted by a channel on their migration route over sea ice kept open by an icebreaker. The paper says, “The addition of new stress during the fall migration through anthropogenic disruption of the sea-ice formation could have cumulative impacts on the herd with unknown consequences for the herd survival.”
Government of Nunavut (2011)

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Format: pdf

PearyDolphin and Union

Sea-ice crossings by caribou in the south-central Canadian Arctic Archipelago and their ecological importance

An academic paper from 2005 that looks at the movements of peary caribou between islands, and between islands and the mainland. The paper speculates that a shorter sea ice season driven by climate change, and increased shipping around the Arctic islands accompanied by ice-breaking could both lead to losses of island caribou.
Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) (2005)

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Format: pdf

Peary

Peary Caribou

An undated two page fact sheet from the Government of Nunavut, in English and Inuktitut.
Government of Nunavut

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Format: pdf

Peary