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SELAWIK: Assignment Caribou -Biologists and Students Catch Caribou Crossing the Kobuk River
Alaska Region, October 20, 2005
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Students from Selawik scan the far bank of the Kobuk River for caribou preparing to cross, September 2005.  Photo by Susan Georgette.
Students from Selawik scan the far bank of the Kobuk River for caribou preparing to cross, September 2005. Photo by Susan Georgette. - Photo Credit: n/a
Under the guidance of ADF&G biologists, one Selawik student attaches a radio collar to a caribou while another holds the animal's tail, September 2005.  Photo by Nate Olson.
Under the guidance of ADF&G biologists, one Selawik student attaches a radio collar to a caribou while another holds the animal's tail, September 2005. Photo by Nate Olson. - Photo Credit: n/a

Students don’t often have the opportunity to catch and collar caribou as part of a class assignment. Yet that is exactly what six high school students from Selawik did this September in a unique effort by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), Northwest Arctic Borough School District, and Selawik Refuge to involve local students with caribou research. The objectives of this “assignment” were to promote a better understanding of caribou ecology and management while providing students the opportunity to work with the region’s wildlife biologists.  For over two decades ADF&G, the lead agency for managing the Western Arctic Herd, caught and collared several dozen caribou every fall as the animals crossed the Kobuk River at Onion Portage.  Data from these caribou yielded valuable insights into the herd’s yearly movements and their dependence on certain areas for calving, insect relief, and winter forage. 

To collar the caribou, biologists work from boats to intercept the animals as they swim the river.  One person holds the caribou by its antlers alongside the boat, another grips the animal’s tail, and a third attaches the collar.  The Selawik students worked shoulder-to-shoulder with the biologists, learning to hold the animals and attach the collars.  They were impressed by the strength of the animals, especially the bulls.  The students, who live in a community heavily reliant on caribou for food, also participated in butchering a caribou and examining the animal’s anatomy under the direction of biologists.  Despite wet and windy weather, the Selawik students returned home excited by their “hands-on” caribou experience. Susan Georgette, Selawik Refuge’s Outreach Specialist, accompanied the students as a chaperone and enjoyed the experience as much as they did. 

Refuge staff will work with ADF&G this winter to further develop a curriculum that will bring lessons from this great “field classroom” to other students. Tracking the caribou collared by the students will be part of this effort.  As in the past, the Selawik Refuge will continue to support the purchase and data acquisition of several satellite collars used in the project. This caribou collaring program illustrates the Fish and Wildlife Service’s cooperative relationship with other agencies and active promotion of involving refuge communities in resource management.


Contact Info: Kristen Gilbert, 907-786-3391, Kristen_Gilbert@fws.gov



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