Three Caribou Herds

During the winter of 2003-2004, three caribou herds were found on the Arctic Refuge, when there are usually only two.

2004 Teshekpuk herd 118x490

Several hundred caribou of the Porcupine and Central Arctic caribou herds frequently winter on the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge but are rarely seen near communities. In October, 2003, however, caribou began showing up on Barter Island and within the village of Kaktovik. Elders living in Kaktovik say it has been many years since they have seen wintering caribou near their village.

Satellite radio collars worn by some of these animals identified them as part of the Teshekpuk Lake caribou herd, which had an estimated total of 29,000 animals. Teshekpuk Lake is more than 240 miles west of Barter Island. This is the first time Teshekpuk caribou have been documented on the Arctic Refuge. Biologists speculate that a severe ice storm may have forced part of the herd to move east from their traditional range to find forage.

These animals stayed on the Refuge coastal plain and on Barter Island through the 2003-2004 winter, scattered from the edge of the Sadlerochit Mountains to the Jago River. By late spring 2004, all wayward Teshekpuk caribou were on the move westward. They returned to their traditional calving areas by summer.

north slope caribou 221x490

Additional caribou south of the Brooks Range:

In the fall of 2003, biologists estimated that a portion of the Porcupine Caribou herd (approximately 50,000 animals out of an estimated total of 123,000 at that time) settled into their wintering area around Arctic Village. As the winter progressed, these caribou were most often seen east of the village, but animals also wandered both north and south of the main group.

The Porcupine caribou had neighbors for the winter months, when most of the Central Arctic herd (approximately 25,000 animals out of an estimated total of 32,000 at that time) took up residence just to the west of Arctic Village. With so many animals from both herds wintering in this region, the Arctic Refuge supported one of the largest winter concentrations of caribou in several years.