Warble flies, bane of caribou, getting worse – hide tanners

Northerners helping at this year’s hide tanning workshop in Yellowknife say evidence of warble fly impact is increasing with climate change.

The warble fly is parasitic on animals like cattle and deer in Canada. The fly’s larvae travel through the animal itself before erupting through the skin, leaving holes in the flesh behind – a menace to the cattle industry as they can damage the value of leather and meat.

In the spring, in particular, evidence of warble flies can be seen in many caribou hides. Researchers working in the 1980s and 1990s, counting the number of warble flies under the skin of caribou in the Beverly herd, reported as many as 220 per animal in some older males.


Stephanie Poole, a hide tanner from Łutselkʼe, told Cabin Radio she believes climate change is leaving caribou more vulnerable to the warble fly.

“What we’ve noticed over the past few years, with the changing climate, is that there are more warble flies in the hides – in the early times of the year, or during different seasons than they used to be,” said Poole.

“I think it causes [the caribou] to be more stressed. They have to run from the flies, maybe they can’t eat as much, or run away from their babies. I think it’s an impact.”

Northern numbers

Research into what stresses caribou is an important topic in the Northwest Territories, where a number of projects are under way to better understand how the animals interact with both human and natural impacts on their environment – ranging from climate change to mine and road development.

The matter is urgent as caribou numbers in some northern herds have been in precipitous decline for decades, a phenomenon so far not adequately explained, though some scientists believe a natural cycle may be in progress.


Barren-ground caribou were formally listed as a threatened species by the NWT in July, with the Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula, Cape Bathurst, Bluenose-West, Bluenose-East, Bathurst, Beverly, Ahiak, and Qamanirjuaq herds all reported to be in decline. Other species, such as the boreal caribou, were already on the list.

Listing the animals as threatened commits the territory, under its own legislation, to developing a recovery strategy for the animals in the next two years.

Poole spoke at Yellowknife’s annual hide tanning camp, operated by Dene Nahjo, which officially opened in Somba K’e Park on Wednesday.

The camp, in its third year, is open from 10am until 6pm daily – except Sunday – until September 29.


Members of the public can witness or take part in hide tanning, alongside Elders and experienced tanners who can offer mentorship and stories.

Hide tanners are also welcome to bring their own hides but, if doing so, are asked to register with Dene Nahjo in advance.