Dozens of Alaska caribou slaughtered, left to rot

By Jeanette J. Lee
Anchorage, Alaska (AP) 8-08

Hunters from an Arctic village that depends heavily on caribou for food are the main suspects in the slaughter of dozens of animals that were left to rot on the tundra, state wildlife officials said July 29.

More than 60 unharvested caribou carcasses were discovered during July along a 40-mile trail network outside the Inupiat Eskimo villages of Point Hope and Kivalina in northwest Alaska.

Wildlife crimes investigators described the scene as “by far the worst case of blatant waste” they have ever witnessed.

“We truly believe that the widespread waste of caribou meat is contrary to acceptable practices and against (the Alaska Native) tradition of a subsistence lifestyle,” said Alaska Wildlife Trooper Sgt. Scott Quist. “I’ve been doing this since 1995 and it is without question the most atrocious example of waste that I’ve ever seen.” 

 

Troopers said local hunters on all-terrain vehicles shot the caribou with rifles between July 4-8 as a herd of thousands migrated through the area. The region’s residents were allowed to take five caribou per day during the period, however, failing to harvest the meat was a violation of state law.

As of July 29, Alaska Wildlife Troopers were planning to charge five male suspects, according to trooper spokeswoman Beth Ipsen. Ipsen said most of the focus is on Point Hope but Kivalina hunters have not been cleared at this point of wrongdoing. The investigation is continuing, she said.

Troopers said local officials in Point Hope have been reluctant to assist in the investigation.

“The way the community is handling this is a real disappointment for us,” said Quist. “We felt like we went to great lengths to include the community and elders in the process because it’s such an important tradition up there.”

Jack Schaefer, president of the Native village of Point Hope, said village officials were told to keep quiet about the investigation until it was completed. Now, to be accused of being uncooperative is unfair, he said.

“What type of proof do they have? I feel all this is premature,” Schaefer said. “We feel we can handle this ourselves.”

Schaefer said it is hard to believe that any tribe members would be involved.

“We feel that it really wasn’t any of our people because it is strictly against our culture,” he said. “Survival is the number one thing in our lives. It is hard to believe that would be done when you have to fill your freezers.”

Janet Mitchell, city administrator for Kivalina, said “of course” officials there would help find anyone who has broken the state’s hunting laws.

“We are not a wasteful people here in Kivalina,” Mitchell said. “If it’s shot, we will make sure it comes to the village for future use or consumption. The only way we would leave a caribou is if it’s sick or something.”

The communities are about 700 miles northwest of Anchorage.

Andrew Peterson, an assistant attorney general at the state’s Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals in Anchorage, said he plans to file charges after reviewing evidence from troopers, community members and confidential reports to the Alaska Wildlife Safeguard hotline.

 

 

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