From wildlife spectacle to wildlife mystery, the decline of the caribou — called reindeer in the Eurasian Arctic — has biologists searching for clues, and finding them.
They believe that the insidious impact of climate change, its tipping of natural balances and disruption of feeding habits, is decimating a species that has long numbered in the millions, and supported human life in Earth’s most inhuman climate.
…The “People of the Caribou,” the native Gwich’in of the Yukon and Alaska, were among the first to sense trouble, in the late 1990s, as their Porcupine herd dwindled. From 178,000 in 1989, the herd — named for the river crossing its range — is now estimated to number 100,000.
…The global survey by researchers at the University of Alberta, published in June in the peer-reviewed journal Global Change Biology, has deepened concerns about the caribou’s future.
Drawing on scores of other studies, government databases, wildlife management boards and other sources, the biologists found that 34 of 43 herds being monitored worldwide are in decline. The average falloff in numbers was 57 percent from earlier maximums, they said.