At the beginning of March 2020, our Conservation Biologist, Aimee Guile, assisted with a Caribou behaviour research project that took place at Gacho Kué Mine. Aimee participated in the helicopter portion of the work done for this project, which looks to investigate “the movements, stress responses, and behavior of Bathurst, Bluenose East, and Beverly/Ahiak caribou herds relative to industrial activities associated with diamond mines in the central NWT.” This research will be used to broaden our understanding of the ways that ɂekwǫ̀ (barren-ground caribou) interact with industrial infrastructure. The methods used for this research, included fecal pellet collection, behavioural monitoring, and collar data collection.
Aimee spent her time flying around with the team looking for ɂekwǫ̀ tracks, which they would then follow to find groups of ɂekwǫ̀. In the event that the groups located were larger than 15, they would find a place to land that would deaden the sound so the animals would not be bothered by the helicopter. Once on the ground, the team began data collections 30 minutes after the helicopter shut down. The delay is to ensure any disturbance by the helicopter is not captured in the data. There team gathered three types of data:
1. Group scans - these are snapshots of what groups of ɂekwǫ̀ are doing every 15 minutes. A tally is made of how many animals there are foraging, sleeping, standing, walking, running, sparing, etc.
2. Focal activity scans - The researcher follows a single animal for up to 30 minutes. Every 30 seconds you record what the animal is doing at that moment. As soon as the animal lays down, walks out of view, or is lost to the observer’s sight, or if 30 minutes is reached the scan is finished.
3. Focal feeding scans - these scans can only be done if you are close enough. For a period of time, the team would time the full length of a ɂekwǫ̀ foraging on one stopwatch. A second stopwatch would be started for the entire time the animal has its head down in the snow. The second stopwatch would be stopped when the animal is no longer foraging and is chewing.
The lead researcher, Angus Smith carries a sled full of equipment back from an observation site. Photo Credit: Aimee Guile The view through a scope: Two caribou sparing. Photo credit: Aimee Guile