Today the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW www.ifaw.org) filed a petition with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) to protect two North Pole-residing caribou species under the Endangered Species Act. While caribou, more commonly known as reindeer, are threatened globally by climate change, the two specific sub-species in this petition, Peary and Dolphin-Union caribou, face an imminent risk of extinction.
Caribou have been a part of the Arctic and Inuit culture for generations. Currently, the habitat of Peary and Dolphin-Union caribou is threatened by rapid climate change and increased frequency of severe weather patterns which prevent them from foraging for food. The overall number of Peary caribou has declined by 84%, from almost 50,000 in the 1960s to less than 7,800 at the turn of the 21st century.
“With living conditions worsening, these caribou are literally starving to death,” said Nathan Herschler, IFAW Legal Fellow and lead author of the petition. “Populations are severely dwindling, and the way we manage climate change will likely determine the fate of this important species.
“We urge the government to respond in a timely and appropriate manner to secure a future for these creatures,” Herschler said.
Listing the species under the Endangered Species Act will not only bring international awareness to the plight of these species, but will also impose restrictions on the importation of either the animal or its parts, heightening and hopefully acting as a catalyst for global action to save them from extinction. Species ranging from the polar bear to the pacific walrus have been recognized as threatened by global warming, and the subspecies of woodland caribou are already listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
“Climate change has had detrimental effects across the board for arctic animals that rely on sea ice and stable seasonal weather conditions,” said Jeff Flocken, IFAW Washington, DC, Office Director. “Species such as Peary and Dolphin-Union caribou are in real jeopardy as a result. It is our hope that this petition leads to real protections for this beautiful arctic species.”
In addition to habitat change and global warming, the extinction of already reduced Peary and Dolphin-Union caribou populations could be accelerated by threats from predation, over-hunting, lack of genetic diversity, inter-species competition and disease.
The government has until December 14, 2009 to respond to the petition to protect Arctic reindeer, just a short time before Christmas.