__As it turned out, Kuptana was right; the Inuit hunters found no Peary caribou, despite three days of searching. The hunters' predicament is familiar to the Eskimos of Alaska, other Inuit of Canada and Greenland, and the Nenets, Komi, Evenks, Chukotkans, and indigenous groups of northern Russia and Scandinavia. Throughout the Arctic, many of the great caribou and reindeer herds that once roamed the treeless tundra, providing an indispensible source of meat and clothing for aboriginal groups, are in free-fall. Thirty-four of the 43 major herds that scientists have studied worldwide in the last decade are in decline, with caribou numbers plunging 57 percent from their historical peaks. Some populations have fallen precipitously: The Bathurst herd in Canada's central Arctic has plummeted from a peak of 472,000 in 1986 to 32,000 today -- a drop of 93 percent.