The Porcupine caribou herd is continuing to show healthy growth, following a dramatic decline more than a decade ago.
The latest numbers from the herd’s management board place the herd size at about 197,000 animals – an increase of 28,000 caribou from the last estimate made in 2010.
The herd is now the largest it has been since officials started counting in 1972.
The estimate comes after a survey last summer by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the governments of Yukon and the Northwest Territories.
Officials used radio and satellite collared caribou to locate the large groups and take photos from the air.
The iconic herd’s annual migration covers a range nearly five times the size of New Brunswick, stretching across northern Alaska, Yukon and N.W.T.
After a peak in 1989, numbers showed a slow decline in herd size. In 2001, the herd was estimated at 123,000 caribou, or 55,000 fewer caribou than at the peak.
“We still don’t know exactly why the herd declined from 1989 to 2001. That means we don’t know why the declining trend appears to have reversed either,” the board says on its website.
“Biologists are still studying the annual biological indicators such as calf birth rates and survival rates to see if there are any possible explanations.”
The management plan recommends an estimate of the size of the herd every two or three years.
“The board appreciates the positive actions that harvesters have taken in cooperation with the Harvest Management Plan,” said board chair Joe Tetlichi in a statement. “This includes focusing on a bull-dominated harvest and, whenever possible, leaving the cows alone so they can reproduce and increase the overall herd size.”
The next census is planned for June or July 2015.