Barren-Ground Caribou Population Surveys Indicate Positive Signs for Some Herds, and Ongoing Concerns for the Bathurst Herd

Public Service Announcement

Yellowknife — December 20, 2021

Population estimates were obtained for five of the NWT’s barren-ground caribou herds in 2021.

ENR obtains new population estimates for the Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula, Cape Bathurst, and Bluenose-West herds every three years. Due to the continued declines in Bluenose-East and Bathurst herds, ENR had planned to obtain new estimates for these two herds in 2020, only two years since the last estimates. However, 2020’s survey was delayed until 2021 due to COVID-19.

These population estimates are used to assess the health of the caribou herds and to help ensure sound decision making for those involved in the collaborative management of these herds.

2021 Population Survey Results

* Changes in population estimates not statistically significantly different

Key observations

  • Three of the five barren-ground caribou herds surveyed this year are trending towards stability or increasing, including the Bluenose-East, Cape Bathurst, and Tuktoyaktuk herds.
  • There are still concerns about the Bathurst herd, which has a lower population estimate, and has experienced some movement of collared Bathurst caribou to the Beverly herd.   
  • The new population estimate for Bathurst herd is down from 2018 but the difference is not statistically significant, and the herd’s rate of decline has slowed from numbers recorded prior to 2018.
  • Some indicators for the Bathurst herd show improving trends since 2018, including cow survival rate, calf:cow ratios and bull:cow ratios.
  • Indicators for the Bluenose-East herd, such as the pregnancy rate, calf:cow ratios, cow survival rate, and the bull:cow ratios have all shown positive trends since 2018, consistent with a stabilizing trend.
  • All population estimates come with a degree of uncertainty. With the exception of the Cape Bathurst caribou herd, all changes were not statistically significant.

How population surveys work

These estimates rely on photographic surveys completed in June during calving (Bathurst and Bluenose-East) or in July when caribou form large post-calving aggregations (Bluenose-West, Cape Bathurst, and Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula).

At these times barren-ground caribou herds are found in the same area year after year offering favourable conditions to get an accurate estimate.

The calving ground photographic survey method is used to count Bathurst and Bluenose-East caribou herds.

The post-calving photographic survey method is used to count Cape Bathurst, Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula, and Bluenose-West caribou herds.

Caribou Management

Managing Barren-ground caribou is a multi-partnered effort designed to take Indigenous knowledge, western science, and the needs and values of our communities into account to strike the right balance to support the herds’ long-term health.

Taking Care of Caribou: the Cape Bathurst, Bluenose-West and Bluenose-East barren-ground caribou herds management plan (2014) was developed by the Advisory Committee for Cooperation on Wildlife Management (ACCWM). 

The Bathurst Caribou Management Plan was recently developed by the Bathurst Caribou Advisory Committee. The plan provides guidance on overall herd management.

What’s next

These estimates, along with Indigenous knowledge and additional research and monitoring, will continue to inform how co-management partners – including Indigenous governments, Indigenous organizations, Renewable Resource Boards, and the GNWT — make decisions on what to do to wisely manage caribou herds and support recovery.

The next population surveys will be completed in 2023/2024.

Related links


For media requests, please contact:

Mike Westwick

Manager, Communications and Public Affairs

Environment and Natural Resources

Government of the Northwest Territories