National Geographic : 2014 Feb
116 national geographic • february 2014 where life begins. To us, it’s a human rights issue. Because when the caribou are gone, our culture isgone.” In a few minutes Bruce squints and guns the motor. “Caribou!” he yells, reaching for his rifle. Moments later he pulls up alongside a swimming herd of six, selects a bull in mid- pack—“We never take the leaders,” he says— and dispatches it with a shot to the neck. It’s not the sort of hunting that would pass the test of sportsmanship farther south. To a Gwitchin, though, hunting isn’t recreation; it’s a means of acquiring protein and fat in a place where ef- ficiency has always meant survival. As Tyrel grabs hold of the caribou’s antlers and Bruce steers the boat toward shore, I real- ize that something’s not right. It’s autumn, but this herd was headed north. “We’re seeing more of that now,” Bruce says, as he swipes his knife blade across a sharpening stone. “Caribou are smart, smart as humans. But we’ve gotten con- fused, and now the caribou are getting confused too. So many changes.” with their light-on-the-feet lifestyle, native Yukoners saw little value in the heavy metal they noticed sparkling at the bottom of sunlit creeks. Prospectors began poking around the Yukon in the 1870s, but it wasn’t until 1896 that three miners dipped their pans into a creek near the confluence of the Yu- kon and Klondike Rivers. News of the strike fi- nally reached civilization 11 months later, when the first newly rich miners descended gang- planks in San Francisco and Seattle, staggering under the weight of their riches. Within days headlines around the world were screaming, “Gold! Gold! Gold!...Stacks of Yellow Metal!” Thus began one of the most extraordinary outbreaks of mass hysteria in modern history. The term “stampede” was a fitting and quite lit- eral description, as tens of thousands stormed Tom Clynes is author of the forthcoming book The Boy Who Played With Fusion. Photographer Paul Nicklen lived in the Yukon for much of his adult life. Wolf pups come out of their den and sniff the spring air. Despite a history of bounties, culling from airplanes, and other measures, an estimated 5,000 wolves roam the territory.