Where’s Rudolph? Inside the Decline of Alaska’s Caribou

The antlered herd’s population is declining – what’s going on in the Alaskan wilderness?

(© Martin Smart / Alamy)

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I can also tell you I’ve seen more wolves in the last three to five years than I ever have, and brown bear numbers seem to be going up. That’s what virtually every villager I talk to tells me as well.

If caribou numbers continue to decline, how will this look from a biological perspective?

The decline of this herd will have a ripple effect that will be felt by virtually all animals, species and all the people that use them. Some years some villages have had a really tough time getting caribou. They don’t sit at home waiting for caribou, they a take moose instead. So there’s a shift by people towards other animals they can eat. Predators are the same way.

These oscillations are absolutely natural. Part of me wonders if it may be necessary for caribou habitat to be able to enjoy periods of time when caribou numbers are low so that they can kind of rejuvenate too.

After three decades studying the Western Arctic herd what keeps you interested?

You hear this in all walks of life—the more you know the more you realize you don’t know—especially now when there are so many more tools available to analyze data.

But, what really keeps me most interested isn’t in the office. It’s out in the weeds; it’s out in the country. What floats my boat is to be out looking at the land, looking at the caribou and all the other animals that share that country with them.


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