Caribou by the thousand were almost guaranteed! The sweet spot each year was June 19. That was the date for beginning an arctic Burnside River trip with the best chance of viewing large numbers of migrating caribou. They would be returning from calving on the east side of Bathurst inlet, accompanied by wolves, grizzlies, foxes and raptors. A veritable wildlife extravaganza… but then it stopped, or did it? Where did they go? Well after some years of investigation, it seems they shifted their birthing destination to the WEST side of the inlet, and now they no longer cross the Burnside River in the same numbers. Gone with them is the parade of camp-followers, the carnivores and omnivores that exist in their midst and on their flanks. The fact that their population has dropped from 450,000 to only 16,000 animals is also likely a factor – and grave concern. Biologists and others are perplexed by the change. Another census is being conducted in June, 2018. That will provide a snapshot, but won’t change the realities.
The Thelon River is experiencing similar phenomena. Paddlers in recent years have experienced poor wildlife viewing, ironically, even in the Thelon Sanctuary. Muskoxen were once frequently viewed there along with an abundance of other species. Have they relocated? No one is certain, but Biologist Alex Hall claims that a full season of wildlife sightings on the Thelon in recent years, would have been a “bad day” of viewing in the 70’s. He further points out that the Beverly caribou herd, who’s range is more or less centered on the Thelon watershed had completely disappeared by 2010.
Until such time as we learn of improvement, we can only recommend these rivers as cultural and historic experiences.
The good news is we continue to have great wildlife viewing success on the Firth River.