The Importance of Caribou Hunting
The Caribou is a beautiful, large, arctic animal, known to most people as a type of deer. In fact, the word “caribous” means “people of the sea”. The reindeer, which is also called caribou in North America and other parts of the world, is actually a different species of horse with very similar geographical distribution, adapted to life in an arctic environment. This includes both migratory and sedentary populations. It also has some of the same characteristics of the elk and moose yet is smaller and weighs twice as much.
Caribou are unique among animals in their dependence on both land and water. They must stay hydrated or they will starve to death. Caribou rely on the ocean for their source of food and also for breeding. There are only about 400 left in this remote ecological zone. The population is due to be reduced to just a few hundred in the next decade. As of now, the remaining population lives in fishing harbours and coastal areas.
The Caribou is considered by scientists to be one of the few animals with a true sense of smell. This is especially true of the female caribous. Males have been observed using bay traps to catch fish; the scent of a caribou when the fish is released is strong enough to make the fish return to the trap.
One of the most famous myths about the Caribou concerns their ability to predict the fall of an ice-age. In modern times, the scientists believe that it is actually an urban legend. They believe it originated with Inuit fishermen who claimed that if they placed a stick of dynamite under a falling ice-age, the Caribou would protect their camp from the explosion. Since the dynamite must have weighed thousands upon thousands of pounds, this must have been quite an incredible claim.
However, in some communities in the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario, some Inuit women will pay good money to neighbours to help them look after their fallen horses. Then they bury their horses in a hollowed out Caribou tundra. It is believed that the caribou will hear the sound of the sleeping horse and come to the site to eat its flesh.
Even though the Caribou’s ecological role in the Arctic environment has been heavily regulated, there are still some parts of the ecosystem where they can do harm. For instance, in the springtime, young trees which have not yet produced fully their leaves can collapse on themselves and create a massive mess. Some areas are particularly known for this issue. Scientists are trying to improve the habitats for the Caribou so that they can live in harmony with the rest of the ecosystem.