Caribou calf mortality in Denali National Park, Alaska

Journal of Wildlife Management
By: , and 



Calf mortality is a major component of caribou (Rangifer tarandus) population dynamics, but little is known about the timing or causes of calf losses, or of characteristics that predispose calves to mortality. During 1984-87, we radiocollared 226 calves (≤3 days old) in the Denali Caribou Herd (DCH), an unhunted population utilized by a natural complement of predators, to determine the extent, timing, and causes of calf mortality and to evaluate influences of year, sex, birthdate, and birth mass on those losses. Overall, 39% of radio-collared calves died as neonates (≤15 days old), and 98% of those deaths were attributed to predation. Most neonatal deaths (85%) occurred within 8 days of birth. Few deaths occurred after the neonatal period (5, 10, and 0% of calves instrumented died during 16-30, 31-150, and >150 days of age, respectively). Survival of neonates was lower (P = 0.038) in 1985, following a severe winter, than during the other 3 years. In years other than 1985, calves born during the peak of calving (approx 50% of the total, born 5-8 days after calving onset) experienced higher (P < 0.001) neonatal survival than did other calves. Grizzly bears (Ursus arctos), wolves (Canis lupus), and unknown large predators (i.e., grizzly bears or wolves) accounted for 49, 29, and 16% of the neonatal deaths, respectively. The rate of bear-caused mortalities declined (P < 0.001) with calf age, and bears killed few calves >10 days old. Wolf predation was not related (P > 0.05) to calf age and peaked 10 days after onset of calving. Grizzly bear and wolf predation on neonates during the calving season was a limiting factor for the Denali Caribou Herd.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Caribou calf mortality in Denali National Park, Alaska
Series title Journal of Wildlife Management
DOI 10.2307/3802467
Volume 59
Issue 3
Year Published 1995
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Alaska Biological Science Center
Description 11 p.
First page 584
Last page 594