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Jasper National Park of Canada


Woodland Caribou in Jasper National Park

Caribou in Jasper National Park Caribou in Jasper National Park
© Parks Canada / Mark Bradley

Woodland caribou inhabit some of the most scenic alpine landscapes of Jasper National Park. These spectacular surroundings are shared by few but the most avid backcountry enthusiasts...and that is how caribou like it! Their ability to survive in this often harsh environment helps distance them from deer, elk, moose, and their shared predators like the wolf. Glimpses of woodland caribou are becoming rare however, even in the remote and protected wilderness of Jasper. In 2013, there were approximately 155 caribou left between four herds, down significantly from the past and not showing signs of recovery.

Jasper National Park is home to four distinct herds of Woodland caribou: the northern A la Peche herd and three South Jasper herds, Maligne, Tonquin and Brazeau. The northern (A la Peche) herd moves seasonally between northern Jasper National Park and the Willmore Wilderness Park. Historically the herd wintered in the foothills, but some of these caribou now spend their entire year in the mountains. The abandonment of this winter range is likely due to intensive industrial activity in the foothills and the resulting changes to the landscape. Cutblocks and seismic lines create better habitat for deer, moose and elk, and result in higher numbers of wolves in those areas.

The South Jasper herds are found in three distinct and isolated areas of Jasper National Park and rarely interact. They migrate elevationally between the alpine and subalpine forests in response to seasonal changes, staying in the park most of the year.

Caribou Range Boundaries in Jasper National Park 
Caribou Range Boundaries in Jasper National Park 
© Parks Canada

Research in Action

The North Jasper herd is the focus of a long-term research and monitoring program coordinated by the province of Alberta in cooperation with Parks Canada, the University of Alberta, and regional stakeholders.

Monitoring caribou in the Tonquin Valley 
Monitoring caribou in the Tonquin Valley
© Parks Canada / Mark Bradley

The South Jasper caribou populations are the subject of on-going research by Parks Canada biologists in cooperation with the Universities of Calgary, Manitoba and Montana. The primary goals of this research are to monitor the status of these herds, confirm likely causes of their decline and to implement conservation actions. The key components of this study involve annual population counts and calf recruitment surveys, non-invasive DNA monitoring through scat collection, and monitoring the amount, timing and location of human use in these areas. The study also involves the monitoring of wolf pack movements and kill sites, to assess where, when and how wolves are travelling, as well as what they are eating. All of this research is used to recommend, implement and monitor caribou conservation actions. 


How many Caribou Are There?

To determine if our threatened population is increasing, stable or decreasing, we need to measure caribou numbers annually.

Population estimates for the southern Jasper herds using 4 different methods 
Population estimates for the southern Jasper herds using 4 different methods  
© Parks Canada

How do we count caribou? 
How do we count caribou? Aerial survey, scat collection and caribou mortality 
© Parks Canada / Mark Bradley

Lambda: This method uses information from the monitoring of collared female caribou. It is simply the number of births minus the number of deaths.

Visual Estimate: This method is an adjustment to the Raw Count, to account for caribou not actually seen - we use ratio of seen/unseen collars for this method.

Raw Count: This is the number of animals actually seen during an aerial survey. The problem with this method is that it doesn't account for caribou not seen.

Scat Estimate: We identify individuals using the DNA collected from caribou scat. The ratio of new to previously identified individuals in a scat collection gives us an estimate of the total number of caribou.


Recovering a species at risk

Five key threats have been identified as contributing to declining caribou populations in Jasper National Park. Based on these threats a number of conservation actions have been implemented, and other actions are being investigated.

1. Altered Predator-prey dynamics
Caribou, wolf and elk
Caribou, wolf and elk
© Parks Canada / Mark Bradley
  • Threat: The valley bottoms in Jasper National Park are areas of high human use and both deer and elk find refuges (places that predators won’t go) in areas like the town, campgrounds and the grounds of outlying accommodations. These refuges increase the survival rate of deer and elk, maintaining unnatural population numbers for these animals, and therefore increasing available prey for wolves. As wolf numbers increase however, young wolves will disperse to find food, mates and new territory. This can lead to “transient” wolf packs finding their way into caribou habitat. While these wolf packs are unlikely to stay in these areas for a long time, they can have a significant impact on an already small caribou population.

  • Actions: Fencing has been used to limit elk access in some areas and in other areas changes to existing fencing has resulted in better predator access. Hazing is being used to chase elk out of high human use areas. This moves them into more natural settings and helps to minimize the risk of elk-human conflict.
2. Predator Access
  • Threat: In winter, woodland caribou in Jasper National Park are found at high elevation in areas of open slopes and deep powder. Caribou are well adapted to life in deep snow giving them a distinct advantage over their predators. Packed trails can lead wolves into these otherwise inaccessible areas.

  • Actions: A seasonal closure has been implemented on the Cavell Road, Astoria Trail and the Tonquin Valley areas to prevent packed trails from giving wolf populations access to this important winter caribou habitat during periods of deep snow.

Caribou on Highway 93 
Caribou on Highway 93 
© Parks Canada / Mark Bradley

3. Human Disturbance
  • Threat: The Brazeau herd is known to come down into the Beauty Flats area along Highway 93 (the Icefields Parkway) in periods of deep snow, or to feed on early spring growth. The Maligne herd descends into the Medicine Lake area along the Maligne Road. The risk of caribou being killed on these roadways is a great concern particularly considering the small size of the herds.

  • Actions: Caribou crossing zones have been put in place along highway 93 and Maligne Lake Road with reduced speed limits highlighted by innovative roadside signs.

  • Threat: Caribou can be displaced from prime feeding grounds by hikers. Displacement may be more likely if those hikers are accompanied by dogs as prey species generally show higher levels of stress in the presence of dogs.

  • Action: Dogs are not allowed in areas of important caribou habitat, and information is provided to trail users about responsible travel in caribou habitat. While this action is aimed at helping woodland caribou, it also helps protect this fragile alpine ecosystem.

Initial Attack Crew member 
Initial Attack Crew member 
© Parks Canada / Brett Haug
4. Habitat Loss
  • Threat: Outside of Jasper National Park, habitat loss is the number one threat to most woodland caribou populations. While the loss of habitat due to industrial land-use is not a significant threat within Jasper, caribou habitat could be affected by fire.

  • Action: Caribou biologists are working with Parks Canada fire and vegetation specialists to incorporate key caribou habitat into fire management planning.
5. Small Population Effects
  • Threat: As the number of caribou in a herd declines to low numbers, this downward trend is more likely to continue. The loss of any animal in a small population can have disproportionate and potentially devastating effects.

  • Action: Minimizing the previous threats is one step toward helping reverse the caribou population declines in Jasper National Park. Unfortunately the Maligne and Brazeau herds are already at such low numbers that reducing these threats will not be enough to reverse the declines. Parks Canada biologists in both Banff and Jasper as well as other experts in the field are working on implementing a captive rearing program for woodland caribou. If actions to decrease threats to caribou in the park are successful, animals from the captive rearing program would be used to increase caribou populations in Jasper. Once populations are back at viable minimum sizes, and the other threats have been addressed, further augmentation will not be needed.
Caribou in Jasper National Park 
Caribou in Jasper National Park 
© Parks Canada / Mark Bradley

What can you do?

Learn more about woodland caribou

  • Visit the Parks Canada Species at Risk pages to learn more about woodland caribou and find links to other informative websites.

  • If you are coming to Jasper, stop by the Visitor Information Centre to find out where and how you can learn more about woodland caribou in the park. 

  • Contact the Caribou Communications Specialist at 780-852-6204 to learn more about caribou educational programs and materials, or if you have any additional caribou questions. 

  • Get involved. Parks Canada values your opinion. Look for opportunities to share your views on the caribou conservation strategy and other areas of the management of Jasper National Park.

Be aware of how your actions can impact caribou

1.     Hiking

  • Glacier Pass Trail, Jasper National Park 
    Glacier Pass Trail in Jasper National Park
    © Parks Canada / Mark Bradley
    Stay on the main trails and if you see caribou give them space. Be aware that although caribou may seem unconcerned or even curious about you, your presence could cause them to abandon important feeding grounds or push them into areas where they are more at risk of running into predators.

  • Avoid hiking in caribou habitat during calving (late May and early June) and rutting (Late September) season. These are important times of the year for caribou populations and any disturbances could have more significant impacts.
  • Dogs are no longer allowed in important caribou habitat. If you would like to hike with your dog ask at the visitor centre for other suggestions. The restricted areas including the Tonquin Valley and Verdant Pass area, Cavell Meadows, the Skyline Trail, the Bald Hills and Opal Hills, Maligne Pass, Jonas Creek and Poboktan Creek trails.

Skiing in Jasper National Park  Skiing in Jasper National Park 
© Parks Canada / Layla Neufeld

2.     Skiing

  • Be sure to check for seasonal closures before heading out to the backcountry.
  • If you want to support caribou conservation efforts, the best choice is to avoid caribou habitat altogether in winter as your ski or snowshoe tracks could inadvertently lead wolves into these relatively inaccessible areas.

3.     Driving

Respect speed zones in the park. At certain times of the year, the Brazeau herd of woodland caribou may be seen in the Beauty Flats area along the Icefields Parkway, and the Maligne herd may be seen in the Medicine

Respect speed zones in the park   © Parks Canada

Lake area along Maligne Lake Road. They descend to this subalpine area for better access to ground lichen in times of deep snow or to take advantage of early spring growth. Reduced speed zones have been implemented in the areas of Poboktan Creek to Beauty Creek as well as on the Maligne Lake Road to reduce the risk of caribou being killed on these roads. 


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