The recent discovery of a children's storybook about saving caribou shows that fear for the animal's future is not new.
Nearly 20 years ago, elementary students at Schreiber Public School wrote the book to voice their concern that caribou on the Slate Islands off the northern coast of Lake Superior could disappear.
Mirabai Alexander was one of those students. Growing up in Rossport, and now an ecologist working for a conservation organization in Thunder Bay, she reflects on a time when there were more than one hundred caribou estimated to live on the Slate Islands.
Under the guidance of staff and teachers, the students wrote stories that highlighted threats faced by the island's caribou. They also created pictures to illustrate their fascination with this iconic animal of northern Ontario.
Unfortunately, the warning the storybook gave was ignored.
The population of caribou along the Lake Superior coast and its islands has plummeted in recent years. Caribou populations on the mainland are also declining.
“It's shocking to witness caribou virtually disappear from this area in my lifetime,” said Alexander, who runs Ontario Nature's Nature-based Tourism program.
“Working for several summers supporting a tourism outfitter in Rossport, I saw how caribou contribute to tourism in northwestern Ontario-the buzz word was always 'caribou' when kayakers came back from a trip to the slates, that's what made their eyes light up.”
When Ontario's Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA) was drafted a dozen years ago, it was heralded as a gold standard of environmental legislation.
Since then, the provincial government has enacted widespread exemptions and proposed changes to the ESA that further threaten the species the act is meant to protect.
The current government is considering additional changes which would undermine caribou protection.
Roads, logging, mining and other industrial activities are fragmenting the animal's habitat and disrupting predator-prey systems.
Some caribou populations have declined to the point that their future survival is in doubt.
The book can be seen and downloaded from: view.publitas.com/on-nature/hope-for-the-caribou.