A Canadian caribou that Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologists rescued last week is back in the mountains on its own side of the border, according to British Columbia wildlife officials.
The radio-collared caribou was one of 19 transplants the B.C. Ministry of Forest Lands and Natural Resource Operations brought to augment an existing herd in the Purcell Mountains near Cranbrook. But it decided to go exploring instead, crossing the U.S. border in late April near the Koocanusa Reservoir.
Last Thursday, the radio collar started sending its mortality signal, indicating the animal was probably dead. FWP Region 1 wildlife manager Jim Williams and staff biologists Tim Manley and Tim Their rode snowmobiles into the Pinkham Creek drainage south of Eureka to recover the body.
Instead, they found the caribou alive but unable to walk or stand. They put it on a sled and hauled it to the Mountain Vista Clinic in Eureka. There, veterinarian Nancy Haugan treated it for tick paralysis and the animal quickly started recovering.
After hastily arranging permission to cross the international border with a wild animal, the FWP biologists handed over the caribou to a Cranbrook provincial biologist. A supervisor in Nelson, B.C., put 20 pounds of tree lichen on a Greyhound bus for overnight delivery to feed the caribou while antibiotics counteracted the paralysis.
Mountain caribou are a separate species from the more common tundra caribou that roam the Arctic. Their range used to extend as far south as Lolo Pass in Montana. But the last residents in this state disappeared in the 1940s. Wandering bulls occasionally cross from Canada to Montana, and a few small bands have taken up residence in the Selkirk Mountains of Idaho and Washington.
On Saturday, the Canadian biologists used a helicopter to fly the caribou back to the Purcell Mountain high country.
“They were able to release her on a ridge just above 10 resident caribou,” Williams said. “When they lifted off she was observed walking in their direction.”
B.C. wildlife manager Leo DeGroot said he wouldn’t know until Friday whether the newcomer managed to connect with the resident herd. The transplant collars record the wearer’s location every six hours, but only send updates to a satellite once a week to conserve battery power.
So far none of the transplanted caribou have joined the resident Purcell herds. DeGroot said several of them have already fallen prey to mountain lions. That was expected, as transplant efforts usually lose about half the members within the first year.
“They’ve got to learn where they’re safe and where the food is,” DeGroot said. “And that takes a little while.”