Peary caribou and barren-ground caribou COSEWIC assessment and status report: chapter 11

Special Significance of the Species

Peary caribou are endemic to Canada (Table 2). They are an integral component of Inuit culture and economy. Sharing in the hunt, distributing the products (such as meat, skins and antlers), and creating and trading the crafts made from skins and antlers reinforce social structures within and among communities. Sale of the products and crafts provides some income, but more significant potential income from tourism is not likely while populations are so low.

Table 2. Special significance of Peary and Dolphin and Union (DU) caribou.
Criterion Comment
Is the species or subspecies endemic to Canada? Is it a relict? Endemic to Canada as a viable population; status of former population in NW Greenland uncertain, but most or all individuals there may have been strays from Canada. The DU caribou are endemic.
Does the species fulfill an especially important ecological role (e.g., keystone species, top predator, indicator species, significant prey item)?

1 of 2 large herbivores in the Arctic Archipelago, and the only member of the family Cervidae; a major prey of polar wolves; indicator of Northern Arctic Ecozone health. Peary caribou are adapted to an extreme polar desert environment and could not be replaced by other caribou subspecies.

The ecological niche of the DU caribou could probably be filled by Peary Caribou but the current status of adjacent Peary Caribou populations makes it unlikely.

Is it a monotypic genus? No.
Is the species at risk worldwide? (only occurs in Canada)
How secure is the taxonomic unit? Are any related forms threatened? Species secure; some other populations at risk.
Is the gene pool important, apart for survival, per se? Gene pool of Prince of Wales-Somerset population, and possibly other populations, are constricted.
Is the species of special interest for scientific reasons? Yes.
Is it of interest to the public? For what reasons? Is it hunted or otherwise harvested? Yes: An icon of Arctic wildlife to all Canadians and especially important to Inuit, who hunt it for subsistence and products for artistic expression of their cultures. Inuit communities are leading efforts to conserve it within their territories.
Is there any subsistence exploitation? Is it exploited commercially? Is it traded nationally or internationally? Is it used in the pet trade or for horticultural purposes?

Yes. No. No, except for sale of arts and crafts made from products such as fur and antlers. No.

The DU herd is an important food and skin supply for local Inuit and Inuvialuit, and the only caribou population accessible for Cambridge Bay. It is important for the tourism, art and craft economy and supports limited commercial harvest and sport hunts.

Is it reared in captivity? Does it have medicinal, ethnobotanical, ethnozoological or culinary characteristics? Is it used for traditional, or recreational purposes or in crafts? No. Inuvialuit and Inuit say that Peary caribou tastes better than other caribou. Caribou meat as a “country food” source is important economically and nutritionally for local communities. Yes.
Is there adverse public opinion or prejudice against the species? No.
Can it be confused with a more common species to its detriment? No.

The caribou of the Dolphin and Union herd represent a unique phenotype, genotype, and ecotype. Taxonomic, behavioural, historical, and qaujimajatuqangit all suggest that they are different from both Peary and barren-ground caribou and likely uniquely adapted to their environment. Except for their distribution, they have similar special significance to Peary caribou as noted in Table 2.

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