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Extinct & Almost Extinct: Woodland Caribou

–The following is a painting

and text for my ongoing project Extinct & Almost Extinct —

Woodland Caribou — –threatened–

Woodland caribou differ from the northern tundra dwelling caribou in not only habitat but also diet and body structure. The woodland caribou are larger, darker, and are not migratory but move to different elevations in the mountain during different seasons. They live in the temperate mountainous forests that extends from Eastern British Columbia to Northeastern Washington and Northwestern Idaho. Caribou are the only species of the deer family in which both sexes grow antlers, although the males are much larger. Woodland caribou graze on the spring and summer vegetation and in the winter mostly eat tree lichen. Caribou are the only large mammals that can eat lichen due to specialized bacteria and protozoa in their stomachs. Their large feet give them support on the snow and shovels for digging in the snow. Surprisingly caribou are also excellent swimmers, using their large feet as paddles and gain extra buoyancy from their hollow hairs. Females do not breed until two years of age and often only have one calf every two years.

Estimates have the number of woodland caribou in Canada at about 1900. The Southern Selkirk mountains herd in Northeastern Washington and Northwestern Idaho has dwindled to around 20 caribou and is listed as endangered. Efforts in the 1980’s and 1990’s to reintroduced more woodland caribou to the area failed. Challenges to the woodland caribou include logging and fire reduction of habitat, mortality due to predators and highway collisions, and human development including roads, pipeline construction and motorized recreation such as snowmobiling. Recovery programs have been instituted to protect the habitat of the woodland caribou and to decrease the number of predators.

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