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Updated: 14th November 2019 04:58 Edmonton

Jasper park worries over dwindling caribou herds

Wildlife experts in Jasper National Park are worrying about the future of the park's dwindling caribou herds.

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Caribou cross the Icesfield Parkway near Sunwapta Pass. One herd of 13 animals is foraging in the area of the busy Icefield Parkway, where a collision could have a devastating effect on the herd. (Valerie Domaine/Jasper National Park)

Wildlife experts in Jasper National Park are worrying about the future of the park's dwindling caribou herds.

There are fewer than 80 woodland caribou within the park's boundary south of Highway 16 .

One herd of 13 animals has been foraging around the Icefield Parkway, which connects Jasper and Banff.

"If an adult female was to be hit, it would have a devastating effect on the herd," said park scientific director John Wilmshurst.

"There's an opportunity for people to really see this species up close," he said. 

"If people are smart and respectful, then they can sit and watch them. The caribou tend to be quite calm. They just hang out by the road and people drive reasonably close to them," said Wilmshurst.

"If people are irresponsible and driving too quickly, not paying attention, they could hit one," he said. "And that's tragic."

The high snowpack may be driving the caribou to the area for food, said Wilmshurst.

Park officials are setting up warning signs to slow drivers in areas where caribou are known to roam.

"They're not a keystone species," said Wilmshurst. "They're not a species that are going to cause a massive distruption to ecological processes in the park if they disappear. But they're an iconic species." 

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