Le dernier caribou du Nouveau-

Vers la fin des années 1800, les populations de caribou avaient diminué dans le nord-est de l'Amérique du Nord.

Stephen Clayden, 
du Musée du Nouveau-
Brunswick, affirme : "L'extinction éventuelle du caribou au Nouveau-
Brunswick, en Nouvelle-Écosse
et dans les terres environnantes semble avoir coïncidé avec l'arrivée et la croissance rapide
de la population du cerf de Virginie." 

Cet article aborde différents aspects intéressants, y compris comment les efforts pour réintroduire le caribou en Nouvelle-Écosse et dans le Maine ont été un échec, et 
qu'il est fort probable que le caribou ne revienne jamais dans cette région.




























Caleb Ward 

(c. 1831–1896) was one of New Brunswick’s most accomplished 19th century artists, and a keen observer of caribou in the province. A native of Saint John, he studied with the noted English watercolorist William Henry Hunt and later pursued his career in New York. His periods of residence there were interspersed with long years in New Brunswick, and he finally settled at Rothesay in 1882. Ward was an experienced hunter and woodsman, and he travelled extensively with an aboriginal friend and guide named Sebatis, a contraction of Saint-Jean-
Baptiste-Joseph. These experiences led him to write a series of illustrated articles on the hunting of moose, caribou, porpoise, and bear, which were published in Scribner's Monthly and its successor, Century Magazine, in the late 1870s and early 1880s.

The following passage is from "Caribou-
hunting" in Scribner's Monthly, December 1878:

Both sexes use their hoofs to clear away the snow in searching for mosses [i.e. reindeer or caribou lichens] on the barrens. In their biennial migrations, they form well- defined tracks or paths, along which the herds travel in Indian file. I have often studied their habits on the extensive caribou barrens between New River and the head of Lake Utopia ... These barrens are about sixteen miles in extent, and marked with well- defined trails, over which the animals were constantly passing and re-passing, here and there spending a day where the lichens afforded good living, then away again on their never-ending wanderings.










Stephen Clayden
is the curator of botany at the
NB Museum


(photo: A. D. Capson)


The Last
New Brunswick Caribou?

Stephen Clayden
NB Museum
December 2000


hat caused the demise of the caribou in New Brunswick and elsewhere across the southern reaches of its historic range in North America? Several factors have been implicated. These vary in importance from region to region, but all involve human activity or its indirect consequences: overhunting, alteration, fragmentation, or elimination of habitats through logging, fire (or fire prevention), settlement, agricultural development and road construction, increased predation of young animals by bears or other large carnivores, and disease.


"Caribou Migrating"

Engraving by  C. C. Ward, 
published in in 
Scribner’s Monthly
1878, vol. 17, p. 237.

The illustration is probably based on Ward’s observations of caribou
in the barrens of
Charlotte County,
New Brunswick.


Although caribou numbers in northeastern North America were already much reduced by the late 1800s from those of previous centuries, the ultimate extinction of the species in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and adjoining mainland regions appears to have coincided with the influx and explosive population growth of white-tailed deer. Deer were rare in the Maritimes in the early 1600s, and remained so for most of the next three hundred years. A scarcity of immature forest cover and clearings, their principal habitat, was probably the main factor limiting expansion of the white-tail’s range. But as deer spread northward in the wake of European settlement, both caribou and moose populations were affected. In areas with a high density of deer, many moose succumbed to a mysterious sickness. However, while moose and deer established a somewhat precarious coexistence, caribou perished.

A telling glimpse of the reversal in fortunes of caribou and deer in New Brunswick is contained in a reminiscence by guide and outfitter Bert Moore (1883-1972), published in the Winter 1996-1997 issue of the magazine New Brunswick Tree and Forest: "In 1900," wrote Moore, "there were very few deer in the Tobique–Nepisiguit country, but caribou were there in great numbers." He attributed the precipitous subsequent decline of the caribou to a rapid increase in the deer population. This, he assumed, led to competitition between the two species for a limited food supply, and to the caribou, now supposedly under-nourished and weakened, becoming more susceptible to disease.

"Woodland Caribou Hoofs"

Engraving by C. C. Ward, published
in Scribner’s Monthly, 1878, vol. 17, p. 236.

Ward writes:
"The construction of the caribou’s hoof ... differs from that of any other animal of the deer tribe, and is wonderfully adapted to the services it is required to perform, and enables the animal to travel in deep snows, over frozen lakes and icy crusts, when the moose and deer are confined to their yards, and at the mercy of their foes. ... Both sexes use their hoofs to clear away the snow in searching for mosses [lichens] on the barrens ... The hoof figured ... is drawn from nature, and measures fourteen inches in circumference, five inches in diameter, and has a lateral spread [when expanded] of ten inches."


Moore’s description of this disease is most intriguing. He characterizes the animals as suffering from tuberculosis, and notes that several were found dead in the woods. The last caribou he saw, in November 1928, was "walking in circles. I caught and examined it without difficulty," he notes, "and the next morning it was lying dead almost in the camp yard. One buck deer and two small bull moose were found in the Nictau Lake region about that time in a similar condition, and all were found dead later."

What is particularly interesting about Moore's account is that it may be the earliest on record of the symptoms in caribou of a parasite spread by its main host, the white-tailed deer. It was not until the early 1960s that this parasite, a tiny roundworm with the formidable name Parelaphostrongylus tenuis, was first shown to be the cause of "moose sickness." Further studies soon determined that its effects on caribou were similar to those in moose, but more severe and quick to develop. The most obvious outward signs of the disease are weakness or paralysis of the hind quarters, a loss of fear of humans, and a general loss of motor coordination, resulting in shaking, staggering or walking in circles before the animals’ eventual death—just as noted by Moore. In deer, the infection is non-lethal and normally without debilitating effects.

Parelaphostrongylus is passed from deer to caribou (or moose) via an intermediate host: any of various species of slugs or snails. The latter are ingested inadvertently by the grazing caribou. The worms then invade the central nervous system, moving to the meninges surrounding the spinal cord and brain—thus the common name, "meningeal worm." In deer, the mature worms produce eggs, and the resulting larvae are carried in the bloodstream to the lungs. From here they pass via the airways into the mouth, where they are swallowed and eventually expelled (still alive) in the feces, only to penetrate the feet of passing slugs or snails and complete the cycle. Deer with lungs heavily infected by the parasite may be predisposed to secondary infection by bacteria, and this could account for the "tuberculosis" (more likely pneumonia) in a buck deer observed by Bert Moore.

At least four separate efforts to reintroduce caribou to Nova Scotia and Maine have failed—all apparently for the same reason. Fifty-one animals were released in Cape Breton Highlands National Park in 1968 and 1969, but none was sighted after 1972, and a study concluded that the herd probably fell victim to disease after contraction of the meningeal worm. The only surviving population of caribou south of the St. Lawrence River inhabits the high plateau of the Chic-Choc Mountains in Gaspésie Park in Quebec. Although these animals descend to lower elevations in winter, and possibly encounter deer, there is little chance of them picking up the meningeal worm at this time of year. A more significant threat may now be the recently arrived coyote. A coyote-control program was carried out in Gaspésie Park in the early 1990s.



Sebatis, aboriginal guide
and friend of C. C. Ward

Engraving by C. C. Ward, published in Scribner’s Monthly, 1878, vol. 17, p. 245. 

Most of Ward’s article in Scribner’s Monthly is a narrative of a winter caribou hunting trip with Sebatis and Tomah 
(a friend of Sebatis)
in Charlotte County, NB.
Both men were expert hunters, keenly attuned to the
habits of the caribou.


Several summers ago, while exploring one of the large coastal peatlands in Gros Morne National Park in western Newfoundland, I was struck by the signs of intensive caribou grazing and trampling of the ground-inhabiting lichens. It occurred to me for the first time that the similar lichen carpets in many of New Brunswick's drier peat bogs, especially those of the east and northeast coasts, are unusually pristine. Caribou must have frequented these areas up to the late 1800s. They are unlikely to do so again, however, on this side of the next Ice Age. Unless, of course, we allow the province to revert to old-growth wilderness and thereby exclude the beautiful but fatal white-tail ...

The following passage is from
"Caribou-hunting" in
Scribner's Monthly,
December 1878:

The caribou ... still exists in considerable numbers in the province of N
ew Brunswick, in the wilderness regions of the Restigouche, in the country watered by the upper southwest branch of the Miramichi, also on Cairns [i.e. Cains] River - another branch of the Miramichi. He is also abundant at the headwaters of the Green River, in the county of Madawaska.  In Queens County, he is found at the head of Grand Lake, Salmon River. In Kent County he is again met with on the Kishanaguac and Kishanaguaksis [probably the Kouchibouguac and Kouchibouguacis Rivers], also frequently on the Bathurst Road between Bathurst and Chatham. A few years ago the animals were quite numerous in Charlotte County, and are still occasionally met with.  In the adjoining province of Nova Scotia their numbers are gradually decreasing, their strongholds at present being confined to the Cobequid Mountains and the uplands of Cape Breton.

Revision of an article which appeared in 
New Brunswick Tree & Forest, 
published by the Tree House 1997