Caribou stuck on ice floes take ride downriver

 A group of caribou is trapped on an ice floe on the Porcupine River in the Yukon Territory
A group of caribou is trapped on an ice floe on the Porcupine River in the Yukon Territory. Photo from Madison Makayla Lord’s Facebook page

A caribou herd was crossing the frozen Porcupine River upstream from Old Crow in Canada’s Yukon Territory when the river’s ice began breaking up, trapping groups of caribou on ice floes and sending them on a ride downriver.

Madison Makayla Lord stationed herself as close to the river as possible near the end of the airport in Old Crow and captured fascinating video of the stranded caribou passing by. Lord posted the video on Facebook on Thursday and it was subsequently picked up by CBC News and Live Leak. Take a look:

For those of us in the Lower 48, seeing something like this is a rarity, though Mike Suitor, a regional biologist for North Yukon Fish and Wildlife, told GrindTV Outdoor such an occurrence is not uncommon.

“Basically, this time of year the porcupine caribou herd is migrating north and the only real major river they cross that runs east-west is the Porcupine River, and it breaks up this time of year,” Suitor told GrindTV Outdoor. “So it just depends on where the herd is with its migration when the river breaks. This year, a large herd actually was at or near the river when the river started to break.”

 Caribou were trapped on ice floes near Old Crow of the Yukon Territory
Caribou were trapped on ice floes near Old Crow of the Yukon Territory. Image courtesy Google Maps

Consequently, groups of caribou and individual caribou became trapped on the ice floes, though Suitor couldn’t be certain as to how many.

Suitor said the porcupine caribou herd numbers an estimated 197,000, but not all the animals cross the river at once.

“There will be groups of them strung out and there will be some inevitably that end up on the ice when the ice unfortunately lets go,” Suitor said.

“When the river breaks, it often breaks somewhat quickly. It’s still surprising that they don’t quite figure out the ice is breaking. Or maybe they do know, but they’re just so driven to get up to their calving grounds they just keep on going. But it’s a pretty interesting thing for sure.”

Suitor didn’t give the individual caribou in the middle of the river much hope of survival, but thought the groups close to land could have eventually swum to shore.

“It’s really hard to say, but those ones [close to shore] looked to me that they had a chance,” he said.

For animal lovers, that’s reassuring.

caribou stranded
A dozen or so caribou become isolated on an ice floe on the Porcupine River in the Yukon Territory. Photo from Madison Makayla Lord’s Facebook page

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