The central Arctic caribou herd is thriving, according to a photo census count made by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The 2002 survey pegged the herd at 31,857 animals, up from 27,128 animals in 2000.
The caribou count is made from aerial photographs taken in July, at the height of the Arctic summer, on the Arctic Ocean coast where the animals bunch in groups of several thousand each for relief from pestering insects, Beth Leonard, ADF&G biologist, told PNA.
In summer, the central Arctic herd migrates north from the south side of the Brooks Range, where it winters, to the Arctic Ocean. The range of the herd is bounded on the west by the Colville River, and on the east by the Canning River.
Most of the current oil activity on the North Slope, including Prudhoe Bay and Kuparuk, is within the range of the herd. The trans-Alaska oil pipeline and the Dalton Highway snake southward from Prudhoe Bay through the center of the herdís range.
Leonard said a healthy pregnancy rate and high calf survival contributed to the herdís success. The greatest hazards the animals face on the North Slope are the bugs and an occasional bear, she said. The animals face predation by wolves on their annual trek into the mountains of the Brooks Range for the winter. The herd is currently on the south side of the range east of the Dalton Highway.