Caribou Numbers Decline Steeply Worldwide

| Thu Jun. 11, 2009 8:25 PM EDT

The first ever worldwide census analysis of caribou/reindeer numbers reveals a nearly 60 percent decline worldwide in the last three decades.

This dramatic decline across the circumpolar world is a result of a bad intersection between global warming and industrial development, according to the data published in Global Change Biology.

Global warming is affecting the herds in three of four season. The spring green-up in the Arctic now arrives earlier—before the migrating herds arrive, depriving mothers and calves of quality feeding. Warmer summers cause more intense insect blooms that harass the herds and affect their ability to feed. Winters produce more freezing rains that ice over and make inaccessible the lichens the animals feed on during the dark months. I wrote about a particularly bad freezing rain event a year ago.

Meanwhile industrial development in the boreal forest has driven the decline of many herds.

The analysis raises serious concerns not only for the animals but also for people in northern latitudes who depend on caribou/reindeer for their livelihood.

For all of us, really.

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