by Rick Kemp
With the launch of the Churchill Wild Arctic Safari we are excited to be featuring something we have wanted to give our guests for over a decade – a fly out to witness a stunning caribou migration and a chance to experience Canadian arctic wildlife at its finest, all while immersed in a kaleidoscope of fabulous fall colors!
Churchill Wild’s polar bear tours will never be the same!
Polar bears are always the marquee stars of any Churchill Wild adventure but equal billing for the Arctic Safari can surely go to the caribou of the Qamanirjuaq herd. The Qamanirjuaq caribou herd (ka-min-YOO-ree-ak) is estimated to be between 300,000 to 400,000 strong, and Churchill Wild has located the perfect spot on the migration route to witness this stunning spectacle.
The Qamanirjuaq continues to have strong numbers, despite population declines in other major caribou herds in Canada’s North. The total area used by the herd during their migration spans more than 500,000 square kilometers north to south along the Hudson Bay’s west coast. The winter range primarily consists of forested lands in northern Manitoba and tundra in Manitoba and Nunavut.
In Inuit mythology Tekkeitsertok is the master of caribou, one of the most important gods in the pantheon. Many Dene and Inuit historically depended on caribou for food, clothing and shelter; so much so that the Inuit of the area were given the name “Caribou Eskimo” by early European explorers.
The Inuit survived by hunting and trapping in family groups while living in what is now Nunavut and Northern Manitoba. Although apprehensive for many generations, they began trading regularly with the Europeans in the early 1900s and by the late 1950s were moving into communities. They were encouraged by government to do this so their children could attend school and have access to medical care.
Today, the Qamanirjuaq caribou continue to be very important in maintaining the culture and traditional lifestyles of Dene, Métis, and Inuit across the north by providing food, materials for traditional clothing, special tools & shelter.
One of the shelters that was traditionally constructed is called a “tupik”. Last fall an Inuit couple named Peter and Mary graciously visited to teach our guests about their culture and their way of life during the Great Ice Bear Adventure at Dymond Lake Ecolodge. Peter and Mary built the tupik to show us what they would live in while traveling and hunting during the summer months in the north. The tupik is constructed of about 20 caribou hides and long skinny timbers.
An Inuit legend about the origin of caribou goes like this:
Once upon a time there were no caribou on the earth. But then there was a man who wished for caribou, and he cut a great hole deep into the ground, and up through this hole came caribou, many caribou. The caribou came pouring out, till the earth was almost covered with them. And when the man thought there were caribou enough for mankind, he closed up the hole again. Thus the caribou came up on earth.
The numbers of caribou seem to be inconsistent but plentiful. Distribution and migration of 10 adult female Qamanirjuaq caribou have been monitored since 1993 using radio-collars and tracked by satellites. The results of this study have provided insight to the herd’s recent distribution and movement patterns. This link has a downloadable QuickTime movie that shows a typical caribou migration route.
While Churchill Wild goes to great lengths to preserve the natural habitat we encounter, there are some external threats that are concerning. Hydro transmission lines, roads to communities in northern Manitoba, mineral exploration and mines are all issues local groups have voiced concern with. These activities continue to spread to the calving and post-calving areas. Hydro-electric development could affect movement of the herd during spring and fall migration as they may need to make detours if traditional water crossing sites are impassable due to water level changes from hydro dams.
As a way of addressing these and other concerns the Beverly & Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board (BQCMB) was established in 1982 to coordinate management of the herds. The Board’s responsibility is to make recommendations to government and conduct projects for conservation and management of the caribou herds and their habitat.
There are times when a caribou is in the vicinity of one of our lodges and guests are always amazed with their grace. To see one as part of a herd is fascinating and a spectacle we are excited to present as part of our Polar Bear Arctic Safari.
But caribou and polar bears? Together? Polar bears are often said to be the world’s largest land predators and our experienced guides (Andy & Terry) keep the guests safe. What about the caribou?
While there have been very few documented cases of the two species interacting, some observations indicate that polar bears will stalk and chase caribou, but you would not likely witness it during your adventure with Churchill Wild.
Last summer a polar bear found its way as far south as Shamattawa, Manitoba – about 400 kilometres away from the Hudson Bay coast. These instances are extremely rare but the phenomenon could explain the “grolar” or “pizzly” bears (which we will pretty much guarantee you will NOT see!)
Churchill Wild’s Arctic Safari is easily our most ambitious adventure to date and the timing is essential. A small window in early September provides the perfect apex to see the widest variety of wildlife and brilliant displays of the Aurora Borealis.
The Arctic Safari takes you over 20,000 square kilometres of the wildest regions in the Arctic; providing the potential “Big Five” (and then some) of wolves, caribou, moose, three species of bears (polar, black and grizzly), belugas, arctic and colored fox, wolverine, beaver, pine marten, arctic birds and of course, spectacular Northern Lights.
For more information about the Arctic Safari or any of our Arctic Adventure Travel Experiences, please call our office, sign up for our newsletter or e-mail us at email@example.com. We would love to hear from you!
by Ian Thorleifson
Caribou antlers are spectacular to look at, but the strategies behind their growth and importance to an individual caribou are even more amazing. Everyone knows that males like to show off for females – that goes without saying. Caribou bulls are no different than males from other species, and the females do respond appropriately, but the showing off and responding is much more complex than just a look.
A caribou bull weighs about 325 pounds or 160 kg. They start with a bare forehead every spring, and in less than 120 days they grow a complete set of antlers that may weigh as much as 35 pounds – 10 percent of their body weight! That kind of growth is almost magical – in fact, no other living tissue grows that quickly except mushrooms!
While the antlers are growing, they are soft, covered with skin and hair and made up of spongy cartilage. They feel like your nose and similarly also have a bone at the base. Unlike your nose however, in the last month of antler growth the cartilage calcifies and becomes hard bone.
To keep the antlers tough and resilient enough to withstand the incredible pressures of battling with other bulls, the blood flow in the antlers – super quick and of large volume while the antlers are growing – slows to just the bare minimum. This prevents the bone from becoming too hard, as to be brittle and easy to break.
Growing new appendages that weigh 10 percent of body weight in such a short period of time takes more energy and nutrients than a bull caribou can generate by eating, so he robs his own skeleton for building materials like calcium and phosphorus, to the point where his ribs would break easily if they were struck in the summer. This is why the bulls complete their antler growth at least a month before the rut. They need to gobble as much nutrition as possible to replace those borrowed building materials and get strong and fat before the rut.
Antlers are expensive, but they add up to a graphic demonstration of the bull’s health, ability to mobilize nutrients and avoid predation – a measure of his vibrancy and value as a sire of many caribou calves.
Caribou cows grow antlers as well, but their strategies are quite different. Their antlers are much smaller than the ones the bulls grow, and they don’t need them to “show off” with – they need them to fight with at feeding sites and to fend off predators.
Bulls grow their antlers earlier in the year, use them in the rut, and drop them as soon as the rut is over. Cows grow their antlers later, and carry them all winter. Amazingly, cows that are not pregnant going into the winter drop their antlers earlier as well, so by late spring and calving time, all the antler advantage in competition for nutrients or fighting wolves goes to the pregnant cows. Shortly after the calves are born in early June, newly growing plants offer a flood of nutrients. The cows drop their remaining antlers and…
nature’s elegant cycle begins anew.
An expedition that guides fight over to lead! The Caribou to Wolves Ecotour is one of those adventure vacations that has the potential to do it all – to overwhelm your senses with an endless offering of spectacular flora and fauna – and the ability to create “shutter bugging” exhaustion!
Explore vast areas of Canada’s last remaining wilderness, from the Arctic “Serengeti” the great tundra plains known as The Barren Lands, through “The Land of Little Sticks” and finally down into the Boreal Forests on the edge of the Canadian Shield.
The Caribou to Wolves Ecotour takes you over 20,000 square kilometers of the wildest regions in Canada’s Arctic, home to wolves, caribou, moose, three species of bears (polar, black & grizzly), Arctic & colored fox, wolverine, beaver, pine marten and countless bird life all set on a kaleidoscope of spectacular fall colors.
Listening to the spine tingling thrill of a howling wolf pack, while mesmerized by the dancing Aurora, is life changing. This adventure will touch you like no other experience can. Of course it can’t hurt that you have just finished a gourmet meal at our luxury North Knife Lake Wilderness Lodge and you’re lounging outside in the wood fired hot tub sipping a glass of fine wine!
From our rugged cozy Caribou camp on Schmok Lake to the luxurious expanse of North Knife Lake Lodge we will pamper you with finest service, guides, accommodations, and gourmet cuisine found south of the Arctic Circle – truly the trip of a lifetime.