Forty caribou illegally harvested as season of concern continues

A territorial government-issued photograph of barren-ground caribou
A territorial government-issued photograph of barren-ground caribou.

Forty caribou were illegally harvested in the NWT during a blizzard, the territorial government said on Saturday.

The NWT’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources announced the incident on Facebook. “This is unacceptable and against the traditional values Elders have taught for generations,” the department wrote.

The illegal harvest is under investigation, the department said.

The exact location was not given, though the department referred to a winter road. The same message was shared across the department’s Facebook pages for a number of NWT regions.



“Everyone needs to take action today to ensure there are caribou for the next generations,” the department wrote.

More: Join a wildlife officer on a helicopter patrol to protect caribou

The territorial government says it is working with Indigenous leaders to find ways to encourage respectful harvesting.

At a news conference on March 9, environment minister Shane Thompson said 50 caribou had been illegally harvested by that point in the season. At the same time in 2020, fewer than 10 of the animals had been harvested against the law.



Most NWT caribou herd numbers peaked in the mid-1980s and have dramatically declined since. 

In 2018, the NWT listed barren-ground caribou as a threatened species. Numbers are decreasing in all but one herd – the Porcupine herd.

Disrespectful practices prominent this year

Illegal caribou harvesting has been a problem across the territory this year.

Earlier this week, Ulukhaktok residents were asked not to hunt caribou from the Dolphin and Union herds from April 15 until July 15.

The Olokhaktomuit Hunters and Trappers Committee said on Facebook it was extremely concerned about the herd’s numbers and restrictions were needed to help “conserve caribou for future generations.”

In February, a caribou was found wasted near Aklavik. In a Facebook post addressing that case, Ken Kyikavichik, the Grand Chief of the Gwich’in Tribal Council, said harvesters need to teach each other proper practices.

“We have many responsible harvesters in our region,” he said.

“I ask each of you to help these individuals, who either don’t know or don’t care, to understand the expectations that come with the privilege to take a caribou for our people and families. Our future depends on it.”



ENR said in February staff were cracking down on illegal caribou harvesting, specifically infringement upon a no-hunting area in the North Slave known as the mobile core Bathurst caribou management zone.  

The Beverly and Qamanirjuaq caribou herd ranges have also seen reports of hunters using irresponsible hunting practices.

The chair of the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board, Earl Evans, said in March that he went to one hunting camp and saw “every regulation in the book being violated.”

That included snowmobiles chasing caribou, people shooting into the herds, hunters using the wrong calibre of rifle required to make a clean kill, people not retrieving their kills, pollution, and dangerous hunting.

Evans said the infractions were the worst he had seen in 50 years.