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Caribou Conservation Conundrum

Kyla Flanagan
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Calgary
Jalene M. LaMontagne
Department of Biological Science
DePaul University


As a Government of Canada biologist, "Rachael Mercer" faces the task of advising the Environment Minister on whether a proposed wolf cull should be carried out to conserve threatened caribou populations in the Northern Alberta oilsands region. The Alberta oilsands are an internationally important economic region, but also contain critical habitat for the woodland caribou. Since caribou are endangered, the government is legally obligated to act. To help Rachel determine whether a wolf cull is wise, students examine four aspects of this problem: (1) caribou biology, (2) wolf biology, (3) the oilsands landscape, and (4) species interactions. Students use a jig-saw method to share and process knowledge gained from readings about these four topics. The implications of the management strategy are then analyzed and discussed. This case provides opportunities for students to evaluate a real-life management plan through integrating their knowledge of ecological concepts with primary research and government reports and discuss alternative ideas for management of an endangered species. The case was developed for use in a sophomore ecology course.


  • Synthesize diverse biological information related to a conservation topic.
  • Apply ecological principles to a current conservation issue.
  • Assess a proposed management strategy based on evidence.
  • Determine the pros and cons of culling a wolf population in Alberta to protect a declining caribou population.
  • Discuss potential challenges of implementing biologically-based management decisions.


Caribou; oilsands; conservation; landscape ecology; wolves; Alberta; Canada

Educational Level

High school, Undergraduate lower division


PDF, PowerPoint

Type Methods

Dilemma/Decision, Jig-Saw



Subject Headings

Ecology Wildlife Management Environmental Science Biology (General)

Date Posted


Teaching Notes

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Supplemental Materials

Background information and the context for this case are introduced in class using the attached PowerPoint presentation.



Bill Nelson
Department of Biology
Queen's University
Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6
Your wolf cull exercise worked great. I had a lecture the day before on the tar sands, and then today we did your case study. Class size was about 100 students, so the switch for the jig-saw exercise was a bit tricky, but it worked. Students had great answers and solutions at the end. They loved your animation. Thanks again for letting me know about this, and you guys need to write more of these!

Bruce Metz

Rock Springs High School
Rock Springs, WY 82901
I attended the workshop with you guys last year. I am very happy to see your case available for use. I was very impressed with it during the workshop. Hope you guys are doing well!

Kathleen Douma
Lakenheath High School
Suffolk, England
Have been unable to get the CBC video Caribou Conundrum to play []. Perhaps it is a country issue. I have tried on multiple networks, with no luck. Any ideas would be appreciated.

Editor, National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science

Thanks, Kathleen, for your comment above. Kathleen has written in to say she is unable to view the CBC video that is used in this case study. We looked into this and found that there is a section on the CBC site that offers help with viewing video. That page, at, includes information on what kind of software you need to have, etc.

Kathleen, who lives in England, wondered if this is a "country problem" and the information on the CBC video help page towards the bottom indicates that this indeed may be the case. There it says:

    The player says I'm outside of Canada.

    Our [CBC's] distribution license for some content is restricted to certain regions. If you reside outside of Canada and are seeing this message it means that we are unfortunately prevented from distributing it to you. Very occasionally, however, our video system will mistake a geographic location and block valid users from watching video. Usually these outages only last a few minutes, so it's suggested that you try again after a short wait. If you're still being blocked from viewing content you may want to check your IP address to make sure that it's being recognized as a Canadian address. You can get your IP address here and test it here. If your IP address checks out and you're still being prevented from viewing content, please contact us.