Protecting Canada's caribou – one kilometre at a time

Protecting one of Canada’s most recognizable symbols – the threatened woodland caribou – comes with a heavy dose of coordination, a lot of education, and thousands upon thousands of kilometres. 53,000 to be exact.

Almost 10 years ago, the Aseniwuche Winewak Nation (AWN) of Canada in Alberta started the Caribou Patrol – an Indigenous-led stewardship program that promotes caribou conservation within AWN’s traditional territory. And a big part of the program is conducting road patrols on Alberta’s Highway 40 where the animals cross twice a year during their annual migration from their mountainous summer range in Jasper National Park and Wilmore Wilderness Park to their winter range in the forested foothills.

It’s important work given that in the region of Grande Cache, Alberta, there are only about 350 caribou left, according to the Government of Alberta.

“We travel highway 40 between Big Berland River and Muskeg River year round to educate and bring awareness to people travelling this stretch of road as well as humanely divert any caribou away from the road and vehicles,” explains Stephanie Leonard, environmental coordinator for the Aseniwuche Winewak Nation and a member of Caribou Patrol. “We end up putting about 53,000 kilometres on our vehicle every year – and that number is growing every year.”

Enter Imperial and our recent $25,000 donation for a new truck for the Caribou Patrol Program. Imperial has supported Caribou Patrol since 2017, donating close to $175,000 over that time in support of education and outreach initiatives.

“The Imperial donation has enabled us to keep our program operating efficiently by helping us to purchase a reliable vehicle,” Stephanie says.

By doing regular highway patrols, there are fewer fatalities – for both humans and the iconic animals – helping stabilize the caribou population. Since the patrol began in 2012, only five caribou have been killed on the highway. Compare that to the 1990s when around 30 caribou were hit and killed on the highway in a two-year span.

“This project is important because it’s a meaningful way for the traditional people of AWN to share their knowledge and directly participate as active partners in caribou recovery efforts and it helps ensure that caribou remain a vital component of our traditional landscape,” adds Stephanie.

Five Caribou Facts:

  • The woodland caribou is a threatened species.
  • Caribou cows only have one calf per year, compared to other cervids (members of deer family) that may have twins or triplets. This low number makes it difficult for caribou to recover from population declines.
  • Caribou can run as fast as 60 km an hour.
  • Caribou are the only species of the cervid (deer) family where both the female and male animals grow antlers.
  • Caribou tend to live for about 15 years.