Earlier this month, images of at least five abandoned caribou carcasses shared on social media were brought to the attention of the Kivalliq Hunters and Trappers Organization (KHTO).
Thomas Comer with the KHTO stated, “The Hamlet of Rankin Inlet and the KTHO are very disappointed with this kind of practice.”
This is part of a growing trend of waste and illegal harvesting that is becoming more and more worrying, not just in Nunavut but across the shared range of these herds.
While fines for improper harvesting start at $575 under the Nunavut Wildlife Act, the difficulty lies in finding a witness willing to come forward so wildlife officers can investigate these occurences.
It is an “absolute” right in the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement that any Inuk can sell caribou, says Environment Minister Joe Savikataaq, and the Department of Environment indicated in February 2020 that harvesters can fetch between $300 to $1,000 per caribou.
It’s easy to see the short-term risk/reward here, but it lacks forward thinking when it comes to conservation.
That this vulnerable species is being disrespected and left to rot or be scavenged points to a disconnect between harvesters’ rights and responsibilities. Many voices seem concerned with the younger generation’s attitude toward the herds.
In March, during the sitting of the legislative assembly, MLAs touched on the burgeoning crisis in the Kivalliq.
“A lot of it is due to overhunting and internet sales … There is currently no control of the sale of the meat, and some individuals will sell caribou online at a very expensive price. I want to support hunters that hunt properly, but then there seem to be many other people who just kill caribou and leave it behind,” said Cathy Towtongie, MLA for Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet.
Towtongie has been calling for regulation of online sales of caribou meat for years now to avoid decimation of the caribou herds.
She has also mentioned hunters leaving behind kills that have no fat, or have only had the tongue harvested “and that is not the traditional Inuit way. We have to think of ways to teach the younger generation of hunters how they can skin the caribou properly, and what uses there are for different parts of the caribou; for example, clothing.”
Comer’s statement noted, “If there are certain parts of the meat which you do not wish to keep, please bear in mind that there are Elders and other members of the community who will gladly take the meat.”
Aivilik MLA Patterk Netser echoed the concerns, encouraging Savikataaq to “sit with Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated and have meetings about it,” adding: “It would be good if they could do that before we run out of caribou.”
Comer plans to circulate the HTO’s statement to the local radio station to raise awareness.
“We’d like to see their participation in this whole thing and get Elders talking on local radio. There’s got to be some kind of a stop put to it. Leaving food out on the land is not IQ compliant. A lot of the Elders here will speak against it.”
If a total allowable harvest limit on the Kivalliq herds becomes needed, it will likely only compound the issue, where conservation is pitted against food security.
Education and outreach are the most positive steps that can be taken to reduce such senseless waste. And in this battle, we can’t afford to waste time either.