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Caribou Migration Monitoring by Satellite Telemetry

Thousands of migratory caribou criss-cross an area of over 1 000 000 km2 (400 000 sq. mi.), primarily in the region the Inuit call Nunavik. But conserving, managing, harvesting, or simply studying the caribou first requires that we know where the herds are. The most important caribou research project of recent years has been the setting up of a migration monitoring program that uses the technology of the Argos satellite system.

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This program has been undertaken by the Ministère – Secteur Faune Québec. In its own monitoring program, Faune Québec also works closely with the Institute for Environmental Monitoring and Research. This organization use the satellite data for their own environmental impact studies.

The Argos satellite system, jointly operated by the United States and France, allows researchers to detect, with an accuracy to within 150 metres (500 feet), locator beacons in the form of radio collars. These beacons transmit their position every five days. About seventy caribou from different migratory herds in Northern Québec have been outfitted with these satellite collars. Faune Québec has been tracking caribou in this manner since 1991, in cooperation with various partners, to improve the conservation and management of the huge northern caribou herds.

According to the most recent inventory of 2010, the Rivière George herd had approximately 75,000 animals, down by more than 80% since 2001. The latest inventory of the Rivière aux Feuilles herd was carried out in 2011, when 430,000 caribou were counted. This number marks a drop since the previous inventory, which had been carried out in 2001.

Our research indicates, among other things, that Québec caribou can travel up to 6 000 kilometres (3 700 miles) per year in their search for food and shelter or to avoid wolves and insects. This incredible migratory journey of the Northern Québec caribou is unique among terrestrial animals all over the planet and one of the most spectacular wonders of the natural world—something that all nature lovers should experience at least once in their lifetimes.

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