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Using Inuit traditional ecological knowledge for detecting and monitoring avian cholera among Common Eiders in the eastern Canadian Arctic

Dominique A. Henri, Wildlife Research Division, Science and Technology Branch, Environment and Climate Change Canada; School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford
Frankie Jean-Gagnon, Department of Biology, Carleton University
H. Grant Gilchrist, Wildlife Research Division, Science and Technology Branch, Environment and Climate Change Canada


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In recent decades, traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) has played an increasing role in wildlife management and biodiversity conservation in Canada and elsewhere. This study examined the potential contribution that Inuit TEK (which is one aspect of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit or Inuit traditional knowledge) could offer to detect and monitor avian cholera and other disease-related mortality among Northern Common Eiders (Somateria mollissima borealis) breeding in the eastern Canadian Arctic. Avian cholera is an infectious disease (Pasteurella multocida) that has been a major conservation issue because of its potential to cause high rates of disease and mortality in several bird species in repeating epizootics; it has spread geographically in North America since the 1940s. In 2004, Inuit hunters from Ivujivik, Nunavik, Québec, were the first to detect avian disease outbreaks among Northern Common Eiders nesting in northeastern Hudson Bay and western Hudson Strait. Laboratory analysis of bird tissues confirmed avian cholera in that region. From 2007 to 2009, we collected Inuit TEK about mortality among Common Eiders and other bird species north and west of where the outbreaks were first detected. During interviews in the communities of Kimmirut, Cape Dorset, Coral Harbour, and Igloolik, Nunavut, Canada (n = 40), Inuit participants reported seeing a total of 8 Common Eiders and 41 specimens of other bird species either sick or dead in northern Hudson Strait, Hudson Bay, and Foxe Basin. Most of the observed disease and mortality events were at sea, on sea ice, or on small nesting islands. Such events probably would have gone undetected by biologists, who were mainly monitoring avian cholera outbreaks on large nesting islands in that region. Inuit participants readily recalled details about the timing, location, and numbers of sick and dead birds that they observed. Some reported signs of disease that were consistent with avian cholera. Inuit also revealed knowledge of two past bird mass mortality events that took place about 60 years and a century ago. Those interviewed indicated that that bird mass mortality events potentially caused by avian cholera had not occurred in the study area prior to 2004, supporting the hypothesis that avian cholera emerged only recently in the eastern Canadian Arctic. This study demonstrated that TEK can be a valuable tool for monitoring future avian cholera outbreaks and other wildlife diseases in remote regions.

Key words

avian cholera; Common Eider; community-based monitoring; Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit; Nunavik; Nunavut; traditional ecological knowledge

Copyright © 2018 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087