Fisheries and Land Resources
September 21, 2018

George River Caribou Herd in Critical State as Unprecedented Population Decline Continues

The 2018 census results for the George River Caribou Herd (GRCH) show further dramatic decline and put the size of the herd at 5,500 caribou – a 38 per cent decline since 2016 and a 99 per cent decline since 2001 that puts the herd at its greatest known risk for total extirpation. Biologists from Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec completed the census of the herd in July, with the direct participation of Indigenous representatives from both provinces.

In 2001, the GRCH was estimated at 385,000 animals; by 2010 the population was estimated to be just 74,000 caribou, triggering harvest restrictions that included the end of commercial hunting. Despite a complete closure of all hunting as of 2013, by 2016 the population had declined to 8,900 animals.

The GRCH range is remote, with currently low levels of habitat disturbance. Wolf abundance is being monitored and appears to be quite low over the herd range, and testing indicates caribou are currently healthy with decreasing prevalence of parasites. Surveys of recruitment conducted in October 2016 and 2017 documented good numbers of calves born into the population.

In 2017 the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada recommended listing the George River Caribou Herd as Endangered. The Provincial Government considered the recommendation and – at the specific request of Indigenous governments and communities in Labrador – decided not to list, and agreed to develop a co-management approach between Indigenous governments and communities and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

“The continued decline in George River Caribou Herd numbers is serious and disturbing. My department continues to reach out to Labrador Indigenous governments and communities, the Government of Quebec, and the Federal Government to develop a co-management approach that would support the recovery of these iconic and vital animals.”
Honourable Gerry Byrne
Minister of Fisheries and Land Resources

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Media contact
Linda Skinner
Fisheries and Land Resources
709-637-2284, 632-8167


Wildlife biologists use the latest in satellite telemetry and aerial surveys to produce a complete and accurate census of the George River Caribou Herd. Biologists are accompanied on the aerial survey by Indigenous observers from Quebec and Labrador who are able to provide traditional knowledge on the distribution of George River caribou.

In the absence of some form of co-management agreement, the herd faces the risk of being extirpated, meaning the herd could essentially disappear from its range.

2018 09 21                              1:50 p.m.