Seasonal movements, habitat utilization, and population ecology of woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou Gmelin) in the Wallace-Aikens Lake region of southeastern Manitoba

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Darby, William Richard
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Most of the general public has some knowledge of migratory barren-ground caribou (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus L.), but few people realize that a larger counterpart, the woodland caribou (R. t. caribou Gmelin), exists in southern Canada. At present, the latter's range includes Newfoundland and most undeveloped areas of the boreal coniferous forest. Prior to European settlement, it included parts of the northern United States, but since 1750, the southern limit of distribution has receded steadily. In the past, representatives of the genus Rangifer were divided into many species and subspecies by several classification schemes. Banfield (1961) consolidated all races into one species (Rangifer tarandus) with five extant subspecies in North America: woodland caribou (R. t. caribou Gmelin), Grant's caribou (R. t. granti Allen) of the Yukon Territory and Alaska, barren-ground caribou (R. t. groenlandicus L.) of northern Canada, Peary's caribou (R. t. pearyi Allen) of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, and domestic reindeer (R. t. tarandus L.) of the Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula, Northwest Territories. However, consolidation of the genus by Banfield (1961) did not obviate the fact that many differences in behaviour still exist among the incorporated races, including those within the R. t. caribou subspecies (cf. Shoesmith 1978). Investigations of woodland caribou in closed forest habitat are exceedingly difficult, and little information exists on their ecology. 0ften, extrapolations cannot be made from the existing literature. Reasons for the shrinking distribution and decline of woodland caribou are controversial. Nonetheless, widespread development of caribou habitat has always been attended by disappearance of the subspecies. Woodland caribou constitute a valuable resource for tourism, recreation, and the economy of native people. If mismanaged, the resource will disappear. Baseline data on woodland caribou in developing areas of Manitoba are needed. Information on the ecology of local populations would be valuable in making management decisions. This study was initiated to obtain data on caribou in the Wallace-Aikens lakes area of southeastern Manitoba. For purposes of convenience, the caribou in this area will be referred to as the Aikens Lake herd. The major objectives were: (l) to gather information on seasonal movements, distribution, and herd behaviour; and (2) to collect data on herd size, reproduction, mortality, and other aspects of population ecology. A minor objective was to examine aspects of habitat utilization.