Historical Events

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Ingstad ponders the population of the Caribou in the Canadian Arctic but acknowledges the toll of limiting the hunting would have on the natives.

July 15, 1928

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The Land of Feast and Famine

Helge Ingstad

Man The Fat Hunter
Human Predatory Pattern
Facultative Carnivore
Pre-civilization races
Carnivore Diet

If one accepts Hoare's estimate that there are five million caribou in all, and if one makes due allowance for the losses inflicted by wolf and wolverine, there would still be an appreciable surplus of calves every year. How many of these animals are annually shot by hunters can hardly be computed accurately. If, however, one makes a rough estimate of the human beings who are dependent upon the flesh of the caribou — a handful of white trappers and a few Indian and Eskimo tribes whose numbers are constantly diminishing — it would still seem that a steady increase of caribou is possible. This coincides with the view of the Indians who, influenced by the Canadian police, are, to an ever greater degree, abandoning their practices of purposeless mass slaughter. And now with the advent of the Thelon Game Sanctuary the caribou are assured of safe access to the western territories, provided this protected area is properly administered. 


In this connection an additional fact of the utmost importance must be mentioned here. Trappers who live on the flesh of the caribou are simultaneously waging war upon its arch-enemy, the wolf. In order to gain some impression of the havoc wreaked by wolves, one would have to witness with his own eyes their wasteful slaughter. Often they slay for the sheer pleasure of killing and devour but a small portion of each carcass. Their murderous instincts affect, first of all, the calves. To throw some light on this situation, let me give some figures gleaned from the plainsmen east of Slave Lake: the dozen or so trappers who assemble there for the winter hunt, do away with some five hundred wolves annually. When one pauses to reckon that each wolf slays on the average of at least fifty caribou per year, the number of the latter whose lives are saved by men total twenty-five thousand. The deer in turn shot down by the hunters to provide themselves and their dogs with food constitute, in proportion to this, but a meager drain upon the herd. 


If one looks a bit more closely at the other side of the question, with regard to the welfare of the people who live in the North, it is clear that their very existence would be threatened were the hunting of the caribou to be limited to any appreciable degree. 


It would then no longer be possible for men to fare forth into the mighty wilderness where the dog-sled is the only means of transportation and the caribou the staple food of dog and man. And were we to deny the Caribou-Eaters their free nomad life on the trail of their daily bread, we should be robbing them of the very nerve-spring of their existence.