Prancer, Blitzen and the rest of Santa’s crew are suffering massive species loss in Canada.
The world’s largest reindeer herd has plummeted in size, with local indigenous people blaming the spread of massive industrial projects in the area.
The George River herd, which once numbered nearly a million animals, stands today at just 74,000 – a drop of around 92%.
The herd roams the vast tundra of Quebec and Labrador in eastern Canada. Known as caribou in North America, the animals are central to the culture of the Cree and Innu people of the region.
However, in recent decades, large parts of the herd’s range have been disrupted by a series of huge projects. Iron-ore mining, flooding vast areas for hydro-power and road-building have all taken their toll, according to Innu people.
Innu Elder and Chief Georges-Ernest Gregoire told Survival International:
The caribou (reindeer) is central to our culture, our spiritual beliefs and to our society as hunters that have lived on our homeland, Nitassinan [Quebec-Labrador peninsula], for thousands of years.
But all the massive industrial “development” projects that have been imposed on our land in the last forty years have undoubtedly had a cumulative impact on the size of the caribou herd. That is why we need real control over our territories and resources, and why we must be involved as equals in decisions that affect our lands and the animals that live there.
Another Innu man, Alex Andrew, said:
Our elders say that the animals will be the first to feel the effects of all this damage. The food chain cycle will be broken and many will suffer in the end.
And so much development like hydropower, mining, roads, forestry, will be only adding to the dilemma that is facing the animals’ survival.
In 1992, an official Newfoundland biologist said:
“The (George River caribou) herd is going down at a very steady pace and we don’t know how to stop it. The number of animals dying is greater than the number of animals being born.”
At that time the herd numbered around 600,000 caribou, having already passed its peak of more than 900,000 several years earlier. Stu Luttich, the aforementioned government biologist, had no trouble predicting the future:
“It will go down to a very, very low level, probably to less than a 100,000 head….”
Survival International’s Director Stephen Corry said:
If we really do care about the real impact the natural world has on us and vice-versa – rather than just watching it on television – it’s time to start listening to tribal peoples. They know what they’re talking about. For the Innu, reindeer aren’t just for Christmas.
But writing last year in The Labradorian, Michael Johansen also blamed the Innu:
Perhaps nothing could have been done (despite 20 years of clearly ignored warnings), but the governments involved could have at least admitted the problem existed and worked together to prevent the worst-case scenario: the possible extinction of the herd. If they are managed wisely and the caribou are allowed to reproduce, their numbers will rebound to a healthy level. If everyone co-operates to maintain the herd at around 300,000 individuals, it could easily support a reasonable amount of hunting for sport, commerce and sustenance.
Unfortunately, the Quebec government is doing nothing, the Innu will likely continue to exercise their aboriginal rights, and the Newfoundland government is already weakening its belated resolve by handing out licenses to outfitters who complain about the ban.
Alas for the George River caribou herd.