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Northern Maine’s Big Mystery – What Happened To Our Beautiful Caribou?

Jeff J Mitchell, Getty Images
Jeff J Mitchell, Getty Images

Everyone seems to love a good mystery, but not when it involves a beautiful creation like the Caribou. We’ll attempt to solve this mystery here.

Before we can solve a mystery, it’s good to gather all the facts beforehand.

If you speak to different people in Northern Maine, you might get different opinions on what actually happened to the Caribou.

Some will tell you that they have disappeared and no one really knows why. Others will say that the Caribou are gone because they were slaughtered, while others share thoughts of scarce food supply and others might say it’s wanderlust, or they felt it was time to move on if you will.

Over 100 years ago, people were talking about the potential demise of the animal in towns and in newspaper articles.

The Bangor Daily Commercial had an article on July 28, 1910, that read:

“Notwithstanding the annual slaughter of deer and moose in the Maine woods, it is probably true that both of those species of animals are increasing here. But the Caribou, which 15 years ago was numerous all over the northern part of the state (Maine), have gone. It is doubtful there is a single one this side of the Canadian border today.”

Another factoid, that we do know, is that the hunting of the animal was illegal in the Pine Tree State since 1899. Prior to that, people from all over the country would come to Maine to hunt Caribou for sport.

The person who is credited with blasting the very last legal Caribou was a woman by the name of Fly Rod Crosby, whose real name was Cornelia Thurza Crosby (1854-1946), who was a legendary booster of Maine’s Great Outdoors, in 1898.

Here are some things about Caribou that people were talking about at that time.

  • Caribou was easier to shoot than deer and moose.
  • It wasn’t uncommon for whole herds to be shot by people known as ‘pot hunters‘, or those who hunt for their food.
  • Caribou didn’t typically run away, instead, they would run in circles surrendering to what some called, The Ring of Death. This style of hunting sickened many people because the Caribou were so passive and such an easy target.

The Bangor Commercial had written about this in an article dated Oct 20, 1911:

“The caribou is a migratory animal, and, when the feed in one section of the country has been exhausted as was undoubtedly the case in Maine when they left, they always move to other regions where it is more abundant,” speculated a Commercial piece on Oct. 20, 1911. “There is no reason to suppose they have left the state for good and any season may witness their return in considerable numbers. They are very plentiful in some parts of New Brunswick.”

Some people were in denial that the Caribou herds had not all departed. I guess you could say that a man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with an argument.

In other words, even though there were those who were sure they were all gone, there were others who shared stories, like Bert F. Spencer, who was a game warden along the Canadian border near the St. John area.

He said, “If anyone tells you there are no Caribou in Maine, don’t you believe them for I have seen them with my own eyes, a herd of eight Caribou, within the past three weeks at Burnt Land Brook.”

There were others who backed Spencer’s account as well. There were other sightings near Rainbow Lake Camps, the Woodstock region of Northern Maine, and in the Mt. Katahdin area.

People were still talking about Caribou herd sightings in the 1960’s and into the 1980’s, however, their stories were never proven.

But the fact still remains that there are no Caribou, at least in this region of Maine. Maybe they’ll come walking across a prairie or in your backyard someday, but until then all we have are photos and articles of these beautiful creatures.

Hopefully, this article has answered some questions about them. If you ever spot a Caribou, please take a photo and submit it in the comments section below. We’d all love to have a glimmer of hope of their return to our neck of the woods someday.

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