The Porcupine caribou herd has a record high number of animals. That's according to a photocensus compiled last summer by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The herd has been growing at a rate of about 3 to 4 percent annually since 2010, Northeast Alaska Assistant Area Biologist Jason Caikoski said last week. As of this year, the herd reached an estimated 218,000 animals.
That's nearly 40,000 more caribou than were present during the herd's last population peak in 1989.
However, recent advances in photocensus technology have also made estimating the herd's numbers more accurate over the years.
"The system supports higher flight altitudes and larger photo footprints, which allowed photography of several large caribou groups that would have otherwise not be photographable using the previous system," Caikoski's statement noted.
The new system uses digital photography rather than film or flyover hand counts.
"Caribou were aggregated well for the survey, and we accounted for all of the radio-collared animals in the herd, which means we likely didn't miss any caribou," said Caikoski.
Since the herd's peak in the late 1980s, the population declined to a low of 123,000 in 2001, Fish and Game noted. Since then, the herd has been steadily growing, based on census counts.
The Porcupine herd traverses northeastern Alaska and the Yukon and into Canada's Northwest Territories. The census is compiled as a joint effort between the Yukon Department of Environment and Fish and Game in Alaska.