Nine members of one of the last surviving caribou herds in the Lake Superior region are roaming in some unfamiliar but safer territory this week.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has just completed the transfer of eight cows and one bull from Michipicoten Island to the Slate Islands offshore from Terrace Bay. The three-day operation concluded on Monday.
Wildlife biologists hope the move, which involved the use of helicopters, will help to regenerate the herd, whose survival was under threat from wolves on Michipicoten.
Wolves had previously decimated the existing caribou population on the Slates, but MNRF spokesperson Jolanta Kowalski says it's her understanding that at present "there are no wolves" on those islands.
"We wanted to move some from Michipicoten. We feel that moving them to the Slates is their best chance for survival as a species. The Slates has a few (caribou) but it's not over-populated by any stretch," Kowalski said in an interview with tbnewswatch.com on Tuesday.
The most recent estimate put the number of remaining caribou on Michipicoten last fall as "up to 100" and the number on the Slate Islands as between two and four bulls, with no sign of cows or calves.
Kowalski described the process of relocating the animals as one in which the crew took great care to ensure the caribou survived the ordeal.
After dropping a net over the animals from a helicopter, "they are given a sedative, their eyes are covered up, and they are bundled up in what looks like a giant sleeping bag."
On arriving on the Slate Islands, MNRF staff reversed that process, Kowalski said.
"The scientists were keeping an eye on them throughout the flight. The veterinarians were involved as well. They get to the islands and they are given a drug to wake them back up...the animal moves on to where it's going to be living."
Kowalski said the MNRF is unsure when it might relocate more animals from the Michipicoten herd.
"The scientists and the teams that were actually out there doing all the work in ridiculously cold weather are going to de-brief and determine next steps."