The escape of three Val-d’Or caribou kept secret by the MFFP

Two separate sources, claiming to be concerned about the living conditions of forest-dwelling caribou in captivity, recently reported the events to Radio-Canada.

Faced with the facts, the MFFP confirmed the information thus obtained. On June 14, 2021, around 12:45 p.m., strong winds caused by a thunderstorm forced the enclosure doors open, allowing three caribou to escape, indicates the ministry by email. Two males and a female, all adults, took to their heels.

It was not until November 2, almost five months later, that the three fugitives were brought back inside the enclosure by a ministry team.

Caribou eating from a feeder in the wild.

The seven Val-d’Or caribou still alive were placed in an enclosure in March 2020. They have since been moved to an enlarged enclosure.

Photo: Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks

Considering the risks associated with the temperature for the safety of the caribou, it was recommended by the veterinarians to wait until the fall to perform the operation. […] The capture of caribou must be done in favorable conditions in order to minimize the risk of injury and ensure the well-being of the animals.underlines the government to explain this delay.

The three caribou were captured using a net gun during of a helicopter operation in which participated experienced shootersbiologists, technicians and veterinarians.

Well-kept secret

During the animals’ absence, the MFFP did not see fit to publicly announce the situation. It is argued that departmental employees were able to track caribou movements thanks to the telemetric collars installed on each of the animals as part of their enclosure, in March 2020.

the MFFP knew their habits and positions. There was therefore no interest in soliciting users of the territory for better information or a report concerning the three individuals. Dissemination of information only risked attracting curious people and creating risky situations for caribouwe say today at the ministry.

The fence and a geotextile wall erected to contain the caribou in the enclosure.

A 20-hectare enclosure was set up in the Parc des Grands-Jardins last winter. The last 16 survivors of the Charlevoix herd were captured and placed in the enclosure.

Photo: Radio-Canada

the MFFP subsequently had several opportunities to report the incident or make a retrospective analysis of it.

The last in the running dates back to last week, during a technical briefing offered to journalists on the use of enclosures to protect isolated herds in Charlevoix, Val-d’Or and Gaspésie. At no time during this presentation did the department’s representatives mention the difficulties encountered in Val-d’Or.

The Val-d’Or event was nevertheless important enough to modify the configuration of the enclosures, not only in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, which was enlarged this winter, but for all the others that were to be built in Charlevoix and Gaspésie.

Procedures for closing and opening doors have been revised to ensure the tightness of the enclosure. Moreover, the analyzes of this situation made it possible to revise the door closing system of the new enclosures and to prevent the unwanted opening of the doors.mentions the MFFP in his email.

real danger

For biologist Serge Couturier, who himself worked in the past at the defunct Ministry of Natural Resources and Wildlife, the escape of the three woodland caribou could have been very costly in the context where there are only seven individuals left within the isolated Val-d’Or herd.

These three animals could have encountered predators and died of predation, he says straight away. He also fears that the individuals did not participate in the reproduction, unless the female was mated by one of the males during the escape.

This escape shows that the department is discharging its responsibilities as guardian of an endangered species. »

A quote from Serge Couturier, biologist and woodland caribou expert

Mr. Couturier regrets that the supervision of the enclosures, although permanently ensured by an employee on site, is entrusted to trainees inexperienced. They do what they can, but they don’t have the expertise to manage large animals like caribou.

It demonstrates the lack of seriousness brought to all these enclosure projects, laments Mr. Couturier, very critical of the methods chosen by Quebec. The biologist denounces in passing the confusion and the secret of the Department regarding herds in captivity.

This incident adds to the problems encountered in the Gaspé, where the construction of maternity enclosures is underway for pregnant females from the mountain caribou herd that frequents the Chic-Chocs. In addition to the difficult weather conditions making the capture planned for this year impossible, the ministry admitted that the too thick snow cover would have compromised the sealing of the enclosure.

The Independent Commission on Woodland and Mountain Caribou, currently on a public consultation tour, is in Abitibi-Témiscamingue this week.

There are currently some 5,252 woodland and mountain caribou in Quebec. The Charlevoix (16 animals), Val-d’Or (7 animals) and Gaspésie (35 animals) herds are on the verge of extinction.

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