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in Canada, the caribou, an endangered symbol

The Elders say that as children, they perched in the trees to count the caribou that passed under the branches. Today the young Anishinabe of the First Nation of Lac-Simon – an Algonquin community of 2,300 people established near Val-d’Or in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, a region located in northwestern Quebec –, do not know animal that played a nurturing, cultural and spiritual role for their ancestors, than the colorful design that today serves as the logo of the local Aboriginal organization created for its defence.

In the town of Lac-Simon (Quebec, Canada), October 11, 2022.
Ronald Brazeau, director of natural resource development for the Lac-Simon reserve (Quebec, Canada), October 11, 2022.

The boreal caribou, this broad-snouted deer with narrow antlers, roamed the northern forests of Canada for thousands of years. For twenty years, the herd has lost a third of its individuals. Slowly moving north, it now occupies a strip of forest a few hundred kilometers high, from the province of Yukon to the borders of Newfoundland-Labrador, between the 49e and 55e parallels of north latitude. Despite its listing as a species “threatened” by Canada since 2003, to that of “vulnerable species” by Quebec legislation in 2005, the caribou continues its slow extinction: it is more likely to be found on Canadian 25-cent coins, of which it is the emblem, than in the country’s forests.

In Quebec, a census dating back to 2012 counted only 6,000 to 8,500 individuals. Herds concentrated in the extreme north of the province and a few isolated herds, now threatened with extinction. Those of so-called “mountain” caribou in Gaspésie, “foresters” in the Massif de Charlevoix northeast of Quebec City, and finally in Val-d’Or, on the ancestral territory of the Anishinabe. From this herd of some eighty animals until the 1950s, which fell to around fifty individuals twenty years ago, there are only nine survivors today, five males and four females.

A reduced habitat

On the Lac-Simon First Nation reserve, Ronald Brazeau, lumberjack shirt, ponytail and cap, devotes his time to trying to prevent this meager herd from being wiped off the map.

In his office as Director of Natural Resources Development, which he occupies within his community, he sketches in broad strokes on a whiteboard the history of the caribou of Val-d’Or: a territory of origin of some 13,000 square kilometres, covered with lakes and dense forests, where animals found plenty of lichen on which to feed. A surface that the native chief has hatched with large red lines, from north to south, from east to west, to represent the multiple forest roads that now cross it.

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