Fish and Game puzzled by caribou deaths

Posted: Sunday, April 28, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has called a halt to capturing caribou with immobilizing drugs while it investigates why an unusually high number of the animals have died.

Usually the mortality rate for captured caribou is less than 5 percent. But 37 percent of those caribou captured from late March to late this week were found dead in six herds in the Interior and Southwest Alaska, according to Fish and Game.

Biologists use a combination of an immobilizing drug and an antidote in capture efforts. The combination has been used successfully for more than five years.

An interagency group that includes two veterinarians is looking into the deaths.

''We will look at caribou condition, caribou handling techniques, the immobilizing drugs, and anything else that may have caused the high number of deaths,'' said Fish and Game research coordinator Patrick Valkenburg.

Biologists first noticed the problem April 22 while monitoring collared animals in the Galena Mountain and Wolf Mountain herds. The scientists discovered that 11 of 20 captured caribou had died. In all, 23 out of 62 captured caribou were found dead.

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