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Caribou culprits wanted

Yukon's Environment Department is asking for public assistance to find the hunters who shot four Porcupine caribou cows and left the animals to rot.

Yukon’s Environment Department is asking for public assistance to find the hunters who shot four Porcupine caribou cows and left the animals to rot.

Conservation officers found the carcasses abandoned one kilometre east of the Dempster Highway, at Kilometre 130 near the camp at Cache Creek, on Sunday, April 18.

It’s illegal to waste caribou meat. It’s also illegal to shoot cows of the Porcupine herd, which has seen its population nosedive over the past two decades.

Conservation officers waited a day for hunters to claim the caribou. Nobody did.

It’s hard to say what penalty the hunters responsible could face without learning about the circumstances of the shootings first, said conservation officer Shawn Hughes.

“Maybe a Ski-Doo broke down and they couldn’t retrieve them. Who knows. There’s lots of reasons for those caribou being there other than intentionally shooting them and then walking away. But at this point we just don’t know, so we’re trying to fill in the blanks.”

He’s asking for help from “any hunters who were out that day, anyone who knows anyone out on the highway that weekend, or even the days leading up to that weekend.”

In the autumn, the territory banned all hunters from shooting Porcupine cows. But conservation officers are only issuing warnings, rather than fines, during the regulation’s first season.

Hughes has observed a decline in the number of cows shot by hunters this year. He partly credits this to voluntary bans on shooting cows adopted by some First Nations.

But as the weather has warmed, he’s noticed more cows are being taken.

“I’ve only been in Dawson for four years, but I’d say it was much better this year. We saw less cows harvested. Having said that, in the past few weekends there have been an awful lot of cows being harvested. A lot.

“We’ve had some reports that, in the springtime, ‘We traditionally target the cows.’ That’s what they prefer meat-wise. We’ve had a few hunters in the field tell us that.”

The herd’s current size is estimated to be about 100,000, down from a count of 178,000 in 1989. But the current population is only a rough guess because poor weather has hampered annual aerial surveys since 2003.

Roughly 4,000 caribou in the herd are believed to be hunted annually. Approximately 60 per cent of the taken animals are believed to be cows.

Unless the number of cows taken is curbed, the herd’s population will continue its steep decline, researchers fear.

Every cow killed is equal to losing 23 caribou over 10 years, because not only is the cow lost, but so are its offspring and the offspring of its descendants.

Anyone with information is urged to call the Dawson District conservation office at 867-993-5492. Anonymous tips are also accepted at the Turn in Poachers line at 1-800-661-0525.

Cash rewards of up to $1,000 are available, depending on the quality of information.

Contact John Thompson at