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Monitors, which went out in groups including elders, hunters, and traditional language researchers, recorded about 8,500 caribou in the Contwoyto Lake area over six weeks. (Petter Jacobsen) Tlicho hunters and elders have returned from six weeks of observing caribou at Contwoyto Lake, Nunavut, in the second year of a program designed to use traditional knowledge to monitor the diminishing barrenland population.

The project — a collaboration between the Tlicho Government, Government of the Northwest Territories, Wek’eezhi Renewable Resource Board, and Dominion Diamond Corporation — had teams camp and travel by foot and on boat, following caribou herds and documenting their observations.

This year, the group spotted about 8,500 caribou over six weeks, said Petter Jacobsen, the Tlicho Government’s traditional knowledge researcher. The project, funded by the N.W.T. government and Dominion Diamond Corporation, aims to monitor the territory’s diminishing caribou herds and their habitats using traditional knowledge. (Petter Jacobsen) "They seemed to be in fairly good shape," he said. "Their health is as it should be, as the elders were stating. We saw the calf population is normal, so those are positive signs."

The project, named Boots on the Ground, is funded by Dominion Diamond Corporation and the territorial government.

Two teams, each including an elder, younger hunters, and traditional knowledge researchers, each spent three weeks on the land following the herd. The teams were also assisted by an Inuit family who live on Contwoyto Lake.

Jacobsen said that compared to last year, the group saw more activity from predators, particularly wolves, who he says used mining installations to disguise themselves as they hunted caribou. Compared to last year – the first year of the monitoring program – the teams noticed more predators on the land, particularly wolves. (Petter Jacobsen) "We did see how some of the mining infrastructure on the barrenlands, in some ways deter the caribou from their normal migration routes," he said. "At the same time, predation is pretty high, and they kind of use that mining infrastructure to their benefit to hunt caribou."

Following their time on the land, the observation teams prepare a report of their observations of the wildlife and land. Those observations are then shared with the territorial government.

The project is funded through next year.

With files from Melinda Trochu

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