For centuries, “our ancestors survived thanks to the caribou, using their meat, pelts and tools made from their bones,” Jean-Luc Kanape of the Innu Indigenous group told news agency AFP. “Now, it’s our turn to help them.”
The caribou -known as reindeer in Europe- symbolises the power of the arctic forest where Kanape lives. The animal is also the beating heart of Canada’s Indigenous culture. But caribou are “at risk,” Kanape said, mostly because of the loss of their natural habitat.
In Quebec province, the animal’s future is endangered by the wood industry, which contributes to mass deforestation. From above, the woods look like pieces of a puzzle that have been taken apart. Trees are chopped up and pulped to make paper or used in construction.
Governments “are supposed to protect all living beings in their territory” but “do nothing” for the caribou, Kanape, who helps the community tag the remaining herds, said.
“When humans disappear from the Earth, the planet will be even more beautiful — it will reclaim itself,”-Jean-Luc Kanape
Recent data suggest that caribou have a better chance of surviving if at least 65 percent of their habitat is protected. But in the boreal forest where Kanape lives, roughly 80 percent of caribou’s habitat has been damaged in some way.
When Kanape tracks caribou herds, he uses both traditional teachings, like looking for hoof prints, and surveillance data collected by drones.
Experts from Quebec’s forests ministry warned that a dramatic decline in the calf population of caribou makes their long-term survival not very likely. Caribou have seen their territory decline over the last 150 years. The animal has been listed as “at risk of extinction” since 2003.
In Canada, their survival will depend on the plans to expand the oil, wood and mining industries. Researchers say Canada has struggled to develop realistic plans to protect the species and are concerned that the fate of the caribou is at a “tipping point”.
Canada’s boreal forest is home to 85 different species of mammals, 130 fish species and 300 different birds. The Innu people believe they are just as much a part of the forest ecosystem as animals and fight to create a protected forest zone.
“When humans disappear from the Earth, the planet will be even more beautiful — it will reclaim itself,” Kanape, who believes the animal kingdom will ultimately triumph, said.