Le dernier caribou du Nouveau-
Vers la fin des années 1800, les populations de caribou avaient
diminué dans le nord-est de l'Amérique du Nord.
du Musée du Nouveau-
Brunswick, affirme : "L'extinction éventuelle du caribou au
Brunswick, en Nouvelle-Écosse
et dans les terres environnantes semble avoir coïncidé avec l'arrivée
et la croissance rapide
de la population du cerf de Virginie."
Cet article aborde différents aspects intéressants, y compris comment
les efforts pour réintroduire le caribou en Nouvelle-Écosse et dans le
Maine ont été un échec, et
qu'il est fort probable que le caribou ne revienne jamais dans cette
(c. 1831–1896) was one of New Brunswick’s most accomplished
19th century artists, and a keen observer of caribou in the
province. A native of Saint John, he studied with the noted
English watercolorist William Henry Hunt and later pursued his
career in New York. His periods of residence there were
interspersed with long years in New Brunswick, and he finally
settled at Rothesay in 1882. Ward was an experienced hunter and
woodsman, and he travelled extensively with an aboriginal friend
and guide named Sebatis, a contraction of Saint-Jean-
Baptiste-Joseph. These experiences led him to write a series of
illustrated articles on the hunting of moose, caribou, porpoise,
and bear, which were published in Scribner's Monthly and
its successor, Century Magazine, in the late 1870s and
passage is from "Caribou-
hunting" in Scribner's Monthly,
sexes use their hoofs to clear away the snow in searching for
mosses [i.e. reindeer or caribou lichens] on the barrens. In their
biennial migrations, they form well- defined tracks or paths,
along which the herds travel in Indian file. I have often studied
their habits on the extensive caribou barrens between New River
and the head of Lake Utopia ... These barrens are about sixteen
miles in extent, and marked with well- defined trails, over which
the animals were constantly passing and re-passing, here and there
spending a day where the lichens afforded good living, then away
again on their never-ending wanderings.
is the curator of botany at the
(photo: A. D. Capson)
New Brunswick Caribou?
caused the demise of the caribou in New Brunswick and elsewhere across
the southern reaches of its historic range in North America? Several
factors have been implicated. These vary in importance from region to
region, but all involve human activity or its indirect consequences:
overhunting, alteration, fragmentation, or elimination of habitats
through logging, fire (or fire prevention), settlement, agricultural
development and road construction, increased predation of young animals
by bears or other large carnivores, and disease.
C. C. Ward,
published in in
1878, vol. 17, p. 237.
The illustration is
probably based on Ward’s observations of caribou
Although caribou numbers in northeastern North America were already much
reduced by the late 1800s from those of previous centuries, the ultimate
extinction of the species in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and adjoining
mainland regions appears to have coincided with the influx and explosive
population growth of white-tailed deer. Deer were rare in the Maritimes
in the early 1600s, and remained so for most of the next three hundred
years. A scarcity of immature forest cover and clearings, their
principal habitat, was probably the main factor limiting expansion of
the white-tail’s range. But as deer spread northward in the wake of
European settlement, both caribou and moose populations were affected.
In areas with a high density of deer, many moose succumbed to a
mysterious sickness. However, while moose and deer established a
somewhat precarious coexistence, caribou perished.
A telling glimpse of the reversal in fortunes of caribou and deer in
New Brunswick is contained in a reminiscence by guide and outfitter Bert
Moore (1883-1972), published in the Winter 1996-1997 issue of the
magazine New Brunswick Tree and Forest: "In 1900,"
wrote Moore, "there were very few deer in the Tobique–Nepisiguit
country, but caribou were there in great numbers." He attributed
the precipitous subsequent decline of the caribou to a rapid increase in
the deer population. This, he assumed, led to competitition between the
two species for a limited food supply, and to the caribou, now
supposedly under-nourished and weakened, becoming more susceptible to
C. C. Ward, published
in Scribner’s Monthly, 1878, vol. 17, p. 236.
of the caribou’s hoof ... differs from that of any other animal of the
deer tribe, and is wonderfully adapted to the services it is required to
perform, and enables the animal to travel in deep snows, over frozen
lakes and icy crusts, when the moose and deer are confined to their
yards, and at the mercy of their foes. ... Both sexes use their hoofs to
clear away the snow in searching for mosses [lichens] on the barrens ...
The hoof figured ... is drawn from nature, and measures fourteen inches
in circumference, five inches in diameter, and has a lateral spread
[when expanded] of ten inches."
Moore’s description of this disease is most intriguing. He
characterizes the animals as suffering from tuberculosis, and notes
that several were found dead in the woods. The last caribou he saw, in
November 1928, was "walking in circles. I caught and examined it
without difficulty," he notes, "and the next morning it was
lying dead almost in the camp yard. One buck deer and two small bull
moose were found in the Nictau Lake region about that time in a
similar condition, and all were found dead later."
What is particularly interesting about Moore's account is that it
may be the earliest on record of the symptoms in caribou of a parasite
spread by its main host, the white-tailed deer. It was not until the
early 1960s that this parasite, a tiny roundworm with the formidable
name Parelaphostrongylus tenuis, was first shown to be the
cause of "moose sickness." Further studies soon determined
that its effects on caribou were similar to those in moose, but more
severe and quick to develop. The most obvious outward signs of the
disease are weakness or paralysis of the hind quarters, a loss of fear
of humans, and a general loss of motor coordination, resulting in
shaking, staggering or walking in circles before the animals’
eventual death—just as noted by Moore. In deer, the infection is
non-lethal and normally without debilitating effects.
Parelaphostrongylus is passed from deer to caribou (or moose)
via an intermediate host: any of various species of slugs or snails.
The latter are ingested inadvertently by the grazing caribou. The
worms then invade the central nervous system, moving to the meninges
surrounding the spinal cord and brain—thus the common name, "meningeal
worm." In deer, the mature worms produce eggs, and the resulting
larvae are carried in the bloodstream to the lungs. From here they
pass via the airways into the mouth, where they are swallowed and
eventually expelled (still alive) in the feces, only to penetrate the
feet of passing slugs or snails and complete the cycle. Deer with
lungs heavily infected by the parasite may be predisposed to secondary
infection by bacteria, and this could account for the
"tuberculosis" (more likely pneumonia) in a buck deer
observed by Bert Moore.
At least four separate efforts to reintroduce caribou to Nova
Scotia and Maine have failed—all apparently for the same reason.
Fifty-one animals were released in Cape Breton Highlands National Park
in 1968 and 1969, but none was sighted after 1972, and a study
concluded that the herd probably fell victim to disease after
contraction of the meningeal worm. The only surviving population of
caribou south of the St. Lawrence River inhabits the high plateau of
the Chic-Choc Mountains in Gaspésie Park in Quebec. Although these
animals descend to lower elevations in winter, and possibly encounter
deer, there is little chance of them picking up the meningeal worm at
this time of year. A more significant threat may now be the recently
arrived coyote. A coyote-control program was carried out in Gaspésie
Park in the early 1990s.
and friend of C. C. Ward
by C. C. Ward, published in Scribner’s Monthly, 1878,
vol. 17, p. 245.
of Ward’s article in Scribner’s Monthly is a narrative
of a winter caribou hunting trip with Sebatis and Tomah
(a friend of Sebatis)
in Charlotte County, NB.
Both men were expert hunters, keenly attuned to the
habits of the caribou.
Several summers ago, while exploring one of the large coastal peatlands
in Gros Morne National Park in western Newfoundland, I was struck by the
signs of intensive caribou grazing and trampling of the
ground-inhabiting lichens. It occurred to me for the first time that the
similar lichen carpets in many of New Brunswick's drier peat bogs,
especially those of the east and northeast coasts, are unusually
pristine. Caribou must have frequented these areas up to the late 1800s.
They are unlikely to do so again, however, on this side of the next Ice
Age. Unless, of course, we allow the province to revert to old-growth
wilderness and thereby exclude the beautiful but fatal white-tail ...
passage is from
The caribou ... still exists in considerable numbers in the
province of New
Brunswick, in the wilderness regions of the Restigouche, in the
country watered by the upper southwest branch of the Miramichi,
also on Cairns [i.e. Cains] River - another branch of
the Miramichi. He is also abundant at the headwaters of the
Green River, in the county of Madawaska. In Queens County, he is found at the head of Grand Lake, Salmon
River. In Kent County he is again met with on the Kishanaguac
and Kishanaguaksis [probably the Kouchibouguac and Kouchibouguacis Rivers], also
frequently on the Bathurst Road between Bathurst and Chatham. A
few years ago the animals were quite numerous in Charlotte
and are still occasionally met with. In the adjoining province of Nova Scotia their numbers are gradually
decreasing, their strongholds at present being confined to the Cobequid
Mountains and the uplands of Cape Breton.
Revision of an article which appeared in
New Brunswick Tree & Forest,
published by the Tree House