America’s Most Endangered Mammal
Mountain caribou are the most endangered mammal in the country. At last count, only 3 caribou remain in the Selkirk Mountains between Sandpoint, ID, and Nelson, British Columbia. We’re on the brink of losing this herd forever.
Unique Life Cycle
Mountain caribou have a unique life cycle. Unlike the large herds of caribou that in habitat the tundra, mountain caribou do not make long-distance seasonal migrations. Instead, they move to the high country during the winter months to escape predators. Mountain caribou also feed exclusively on lichens during the cold winter months.
Emergency efforts are underway to save the Selkirk herd from disappearing altogether. One option is to transplant some caribou from other populations into Idaho. The Kootenai and Kalispel Tribes have also constructed a maternal pen where pregnant females and calves can be held until the calves reach an age where they can successfully defend themselves in the wild.
A Path Toward Recovery
The current U.S. recovery plan was written in the 1990s and clearly failed to protect this species. Because the only functional populations now remain in Canada, the fate of this subspecies will largely be determined by the Canadian government’s new recovery plan which is still in development. The Kootenai Tribe is leading the effort to update the U.S. recovery plan for mountain caribou which will have to build on the measures that the Canadian government is willing to take. ICL is tracking this process and will be involved in the development of the new plan.