________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 22 . . . . June 22, 2007


Being Caribou: Five Months on Foot with a Caribou Herd.

Karsten Heuer & Leanne Allison.
New York, NY: Walker & Company (Distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books), 2007.
48 pp., cloth, $22.95.
ISBN 978-0-8027-9565-6.

Subject Headings:
Grants’ caribou-Migration-Yukon Territory-Juvenile literature.
Grants’ caribou-Alaska-Arctic National Wildlife Rescue-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.

Review by Gillian Richardson.

***½ /4

Reviewed from galleys.


It was five days before we saw our first animal. Five days of trudging along the narrow, slippery snow trench with heavy packs digging into our shoulders. We couldn’t ski along it – the snow was too deep and the path left by the caribou too tight. Instead we stepped from packed hoof print to packed hoof print, balancing as though we were on a narrow log. One misstep to the side and we landed headfirst in the soft, deep snow.


It’s amazing to consider the seasonal migrations of many animals, journeys of thousands of kilometers to find food and shelter before returning to the starting point to give birth to the next generation. It’s something else for humans to experience such a journey. In Being Caribou, adventurers Karsten Heuer and his wife, Leanne Allison, present a first-hand account of their five month trek with the Porcupine caribou herd --  more than 100,000 animals -- across the Yukon to their calving ground in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. The authors’ hope is to be a voice for the caribou against the proposed development of this ancient calving ground by oil companies. For this species, as for many others, the transformation of necessary habitat by humans interrupts their ageless cycles.

     In this highly readable photo documentary, young readers will get the caribou’s perspective of hardships along the trail: deep snow, frigid cold, exposure on mountain slopes, crossing thawing rivers (humans wading in sandals to keep boots dry), waiting out blizzards (humans must stop, but the caribou carry on) and being harassed by predators (wolves stalk the caribou, grizzlies shadow the humans). At the calving grounds, Heuer and Allison sit trapped by skittish expectant mothers, witness calf births and marvel at the mere five minutes it takes for a newborn’s first step. No time is wasted here: in only 10 days, the first biting bugs arrive, driving the now-larger caribou herd south to the forests once again. They will scatter for winter but in a few months will repeat the northward migration.

     The authors were impressed as much by the relentless instinct driving the caribou to follow their ancient trails, as by the respect of the Gwich’in for animals that have traditionally provided all their needs. The reader will learn about more than the physical experience of tracking migrating caribou. They will share a wild way of life, taught to rely on their senses by keen observation. The photography is exceptional for dramatic wide-angle shots of animal masses on the move in the austere setting, as well as the tender, first moment close-ups of a caribou calf.

     Being Caribou makes a considerable contribution to our growing awareness of how easily human activity can trip the balance of nature, even in such a remote place.

     The book is linked to a comprehensive web site, with additional material to study the environmental issues that have arisen concerning the caribou migration across the Arctic.

Highly Recommended.

Gillian Richardson, who lives in BC, is a freelance writer and former teacher-librarian.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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