Wildlife experts in the Pacific Northwest have warned that there are no more Selkirk Caribou left in the Contiguous United States, which means the 48 states excluding Alaska and Hawaii.
The Selkirk was the only herd of caribou that still ventured below the Canadian border, but their population has dwindled to such low numbers that there is only one single survivor that humans know about. In 2017, there were only about a dozen Selkirks known to be in the US, and in just a few years that number fell to one.
In January, the sole survivor of the Selkirk herd was captured by Canadian officials, who hope to be able to protect it from poachers and predators. Researchers and volunteers will help the animal gain weight and prepare it to be reintroduced to the wild with another herd of caribou.
Leo DeGroot, a wildlife biologist for the government in British Columbia, says that the caribou have continued to lose more and more of their habitat as the years pass on, which make them more vulnerable to predators.
“The caribou are just a more vulnerable species. They don’t kick hard like a moose. They’re not as skittish as a deer. They never have twins. So with these changes, they’re the ones that pay the price,” DeGroot told Anchorage Daily News.
The animal’s habitat is shrinking due to deforestation from logging companies and exploration for oil, natural gas and precious minerals.
Ray Entz, director of wildlife and terrestrial resources for the Kalispel Tribe in Washington, said that capturing the surviving caribou was the only way to ensure that it would survive.
“It was the right move. That animal was not going to survive,” Entz said.
Entz said that the Kalispel Tribe is still making efforts to preserve the species in the region.
“I am resolute about the return of that species. It’s too easy to say, ‘Well, they’re not here, let’s quit.’ That’s not the tribe’s perspective,” Entz said.
The Center for Biological Diversity is currently planning a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to designate a protected caribou habitat in northern Idaho and northeast Washington. The agency had planned to designate large areas of land for conservation purposes years ago but gave up on the plan for reasons that were never disclosed.
“Without habitat protections, the chances of us seeing caribou in the Lower 48 again is pretty slim,” Andrea Santarsiere, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity said.