10 The Last of the Idaho Caribou

The Last of the Idaho Caribou

Marco Seiferle-Valencia

Title: Survival of only U.S. caribou herd may be because of one man’s efforts



Take a few minutes to just look at the image above.


What do you see in the image?

What questions do you have about what you see?

How does this connect to things you already know or are learning about?

Read the article that accompanied the image to learn more…

Source: https://cdil.lib.uidaho.edu/storying-extinction/mapitem.html?id=carlton-newsclipping

Context Given: This item is a scan of a newspaper article titled “Survival of only U.S. caribou herd may be because of one man’s efforts”. There is no publication date or authoring paper information available, so the reader has only the content of the story to contextualize this piece. The article talks about a man named Jasper Carlton, who is seeking to save the last 13 wild American caribou. The article describes what caribou are, as well as some at the time recent happenings to seek out federal protections for this animal. This content appears as part of a broader site called “Storying Extinction” which tells about how the last caribou in the contiguous United States became extinct, and the ultimately failed efforts to save it.


Some other words for expanded context…

Whose stories are included here?

Who is telling the story?

Expanded Context: Students and researchers occasionally have to grapple with more minimal context items, that while not including as much information in the description point to exciting possibilities. Naturalists and animal lovers alike might be surprised to learn there was a caribou population in Idaho so recently, or even at all, since this is a lesser-known natural history of our state, at least to more recent arrivals.

Other sources can help fill out the story, from a quick search the Smithsonian Magazine says:

“Last April, conservationists were alarmed to discover that the South Selkirk caribou herd, the only surviving population that ranges into the contiguous United States, had been reduced to just three individuals. In the following months, one of the caribou was killed by a cougar, and another disappeared from researchers’ radar due to a tracking collar malfunction. So, in a final-hour effort to keep the herd alive, conservationists have moved the last known South Selkirk caribou into a captive breeding pen, as David Moskovitz reports for Science.

The herd once migrated from British Columbia to the mountains of Idaho and Washington, and the relocation means no wild caribou roam the lower 48 states. The sole surviving South Selkirk caribou—a female—and two male caribou recently captured from another herd are now living in a 20-acre enclosure near the city of Revelstoke, British Columbia. In around a month’s time, biologists plan to release the caribou into a more stable herd. But their future, and the fate of other mountain caribou, remain precarious.”

Readers contextualizing this piece will have many avenues to explore, including the imprecise science of how we decide when to declare animals extinct, the complicated cultural and social legacies of extinctions and extirpations, or just learning more about mountain caribou, including the unique characteristics of those (previously) found in Idaho.

Additional sources:


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The Last of the Idaho Caribou Copyright © 2023 by Marco Seiferle-Valencia is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.