Friday, March 13, 2009

Being Caribou: Five Month on Foot with an Arctic Herd by Karsten Heuer

Being Caribou by Karsten Heuer is travel adventure with scientific and political purpose. In 2003, Heuer and his bride Leanne Allison spent their honeymoon with the Porcupine Caribou Herd, migrating with the animals from the herd's wintering grounds in the Summit Lake region of the Yukon across the border into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. They began on skis in the snow and completed the journey on foot five months later. Saying that the path was difficult is understatement. With cracking ice, frigid rivers to ford, bogs, and steep cliffs, as well as wolves and grizzlies to avoid, it was brutal. Let's not even mention the weather and the mosquitoes. Readers will understand why it is difficult to keep up with the made-for-tundra caribou and how trained scientists can lose track of thousands of large furry animals.

Heuer had worked in the Yukon as a ranger prior to 2003 and had become fascinated by the unpredictable caribou migration. Naturalists have found the caribou routes vary greatly from year to year. Heuer thought if he could travel with them, he might discover why. He surmised that with a lot of good planning, it could be done. With grants to support the research, a plan to follow, and telecommunication to call for food deliveries, he and Allison set out to document the migration. They were in for many surprises.

Readers who dream of great treks will enjoy this riveting story of hardship and dedicated science. Activists wanting evidence for the protection of nature preserves will find inspiration.

Heuer, Karsten. Being Caribou: Five Month on Foot with an Arctic Herd. Mountaineers Books, 2005. ISBN 1594850100

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