Nature Canada

The Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary

Ellen Jakubowski, Guest Blogger

Ellen Jakubowski,
Guest Blogger

This blog is written by guest blogger, Ellen Jakubowski. 

This remote 52,000-square kilometre sanctuary, rich in natural and cultural history, remains a relatively undisturbed wilderness. Archaeological artifacts reveal its tundra and river valley were inhabited by Archaic humans as early as 6000 BC and later by Inuit and Dene peoples. The area was designated as a game sanctuary in 1927 in order to conserve its population of muskoxen. This protection has allowed the hairy ungulates and many other species to thrive in the area ever since.

Image of Thelon River

Photo of the Thelon River. Photo taken by Cameron Hayne. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary’s landscape is unique in terms of what it offers wildlife. While its tundra, featuring heath, low shrubs and over 120 species of lichen, is typical to the Low Arctic ecoregion, it also boasts a surprising number of trees. The spruces, willows, and other trees nestled in the Thelon River valley and extending into the tundra serve as a northward expansion of the boreal forest. They support populations of beaver, moose and boreal-breeding birds like Northern Shrike and Yellow-rumped Warbler, which otherwise do not occur so far north of the tree line. The sanctuary is of special importance to certain large mammals: Barren-ground Caribou, who rely on it as a calving ground, muskoxen, who are year-round residents, and grizzly bears, who depend on its denning sites and food sources.

The sanctuary is an alluring destination for outdoor adventurers seeking an untamed Arctic experience. Humans and wildlife alike should be able to enjoy its natural bounty into the future as long as disturbance continues to be minimized. Mining exploration and development were prohibited in the sanctuary in 1930 and have remained so ever since, even though deposits of uranium and other valuable minerals could be present. A current proposal would see the sanctuary expand into the Thelon River Important Bird Area, bringing this favoured breeding site under increased protection.

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