Michipicoten Island

Relocated Caribou Show Positive Signs

Caribou tracks were observed on all of the beaches visited on Lake Superior’s Caribou Island. (Photo: Leo Lepiano)

A group from the Wawa area has a positive report regarding status of caribou relocated to a Lake Superior island. 

Six caribou, 4 females and two males, were relocated from Michipicoten Island to Caribou Island in February and March of 2018. The transfer was part of efforts to ensure survival of the Lake Superior caribou population after wolves decimated their numbers. This decimation resulted after ice bridges in 2014 enabled wolves to reach Michipicoten Island and also the Slate Islands. The caribou on these islands were considered the anchor populations for the Lake Superior range.

Michipicoten Island is located on Lake Superior some 13 km/8 mi. offshore in the Wawa, Ontario area. Caribou Island is located due south of Michipicoten Island, 72 km/44 mi. north of the Michigan mainland and 60 km/37 mi. south of the Canadian mainland (not to be confused with the much smaller Caribou Island near Thunder Bay, Ontario). The Slate Islands are located some 12 km/ 7 mi. offshore from Terrace Bay, Ontario.

This photo helps to display the size of some of the caribou tracks. (Photo: Leo Lepiano)

Visiting Caribou Island by Boat – Calves, Tracks and Trails

In August this summer, a small group from the Wawa area visited Caribou Island by boat to ascertain the status of the relocated animals. The group landed at four different points on Caribou Island’s shoreline, purposely refraining from visiting the interior of the island so as not to disturb the caribou.

The group did not see caribou but did see many signs including:

• caribou scat

• caribou tracks on all beaches visited

• calf tracks

• a caribou trail

Some tracks were clearly from calves. (Photo: Leo Lepiano)

Group members reported that some of the tracks were clearly from calves, indicating that at least one bull survived and that there was breeding during the past year. Group members also reported excellent lichen coverage in areas near the shore and in trees. Lichen is the primary food source for caribou.

Considerable lichen, a caribou food source, was observed near the Caribou Island shoreline. (Photo: Leo Lepiano)

Leo Lepiano of Wawa, who was one of the group members visiting the island, said that information gained through the use of radio collars made it clear that four females were alive. He added at least one bull and one calf, for a count of at least six animals. He said the maximum number of caribou likely did not exceed fourteen.

A caribou trail was clearly visible at one island location. (Photo: Leo Lepiano)

Caribou Island – A Base for Population Expansion

Leo said the animals on Caribou Island might be looking for a new home in future, if their population “outgrows” the island. He cited Michipicoten Island, 47 km due northward from Caribou as one such potential new home. He pointed out that Michipicoten Island would have to be wolf free before this could take place and that a couple of wolves were still on Michipicoten. Leo maintained that re-establishing a population on Michipicoten could be a pre-cursor to re-establishing the population in other Lake Superior coastal areas. Caribou were very prevalent on and around Lake Superior until the late eighteen hundreds.

Signs of caribou were observed in several shoreline areas. (Photo: Leo Lepiano)

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