(Montreal) A herd of caribou in the Charlevoix region could be heading for a “baby boom” this year, offering rare good news for this decimated population in Quebec.

Caroline Hins, a biologist with the Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks, confirmed that the 12 breeding-age females in the herd would be pregnant, after tests revealed high levels of progesterone.

“It’s very good news,” she said in an interview Friday.

If all the pregnancies are carried to term and the young survive — which is not guaranteed — the herd in northeast Quebec will have doubled in size in a year and a half, according to Ms. Hins.

The Quebec government caught the herd, which then numbered 16, and penned it in February 2022 as part of a controversial plan to avoid the extinction of isolated area herds. There were five healthy fawns last year, out of possibly eight pregnancies.

Conservationists, however, have criticized the government for penning the animals rather than protecting and restoring their forest habitat and presenting a long-promised master plan to rebuild the species.

The government has described the enclosure approach as temporary. Hins says the birth of new caribou raises hope that the herd can one day be released back into the wild. However, she could not give a timeline for this eventuality.

The biologist explains that there is still a lot of work to be done, with habitat protection and restoration being at the top of the list. Details of this habitat restoration will be included in Quebec’s caribou action plan, which is now expected to be released in June after years of delay.

The plan must include preventing logging in certain areas, controlling predators and closing logging roads to restore habitat, Hins said.

She adds that keepers will gradually reduce the grain given to the animals before they are released, so that they are better prepared to eat what they find in the wild. Experts are also looking for ways to “re-habituate” animals to predation, but the biologist wouldn’t elaborate on how that might be accomplished.

The Charlevoix herd is relatively healthy, with a good mix of animals of different ages. Any loosening will also depend on the herd’s ability to continue growing, Hins said.

Caribou normally give birth in May or June, so there are still a few weeks before babies arrive, she explained.

It is not yet confirmed whether any female caribou were pregnant in the other penned herd in Val-d’Or, in northwestern Quebec, which numbered only six or seven animals at the last count.

Six females were also captured and placed in “maternity pens” in Gaspésie. They will be released at the end of the summer once their offspring are a few months old and better able to survive, the government said in a statement.

The total caribou population in Quebec was estimated at between 5,000 and 10,000 during the period 2005 to 2016. However, recent aerial surveys have suggested that most herds have continued to decline due to habitat destruction. , industrial activity and an increase in predators that use logging roads to reach their prey.