Nature Canada

Caribou: Nomads of the Northern Wilderness

What’s the difference between Caribou and Reindeer? Trick question—they’re actually the same species! Rangifer tarandus, also known as “Reindeer” in Russia and Scandinavia or when domesticated, and Caribou in North America, are the same leggy herbivores we know and love.

What do Caribou look like?

There are various subspecies of Caribou, but generally, Caribou are big with antlers and short tails. Caribou can measure 1 – 2 metres in length and stand 1 – 1.5 metres and can weigh between 130 and 700 pounds. Woodland Caribou, who live in Canada’s boreal forest, are the largest of the subspecies. Caribou colouring can range from the brown of Woodland Caribou to the snowy white of their Arctic-dwelling counterparts.

Where do Caribou live?

Caribou live in boreal forests, as well as Arctic tundra regions of North America, Asia, Northern Europe, and Greenland. In Canada, they live in all provinces and territories, except Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.

Robert Berdan

Fun facts about Caribou

    • When Caribou sense danger, they stand on their hind legs and release a scent from their ankles that warn other caribou of trouble afoot.
    • Caribou can travel more than 5000 kilometers a year—more than any other land mammal.
    • Caribou hooves are hollow to make digging up food easier, and are flat enough to act like snowshoes.
    • Both male and female Caribou grow antlers, making them the only members of the deer family that do this.
    • Caribou are excellent swimmers, often crossing rivers and lakes during migration.

Caribou Threats and Conservation

Despite their wide range, these majestic mammals are a threatened species. Their populations are dropping dramatically due to climate change and development which negatively affect their habitat and food security. Of the 51 Caribou herds living in Canada, not a single one is growing and at least 20 are declining.

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Canada’s wilderness is the world’s envy. It’s our duty to keep our true north strong and green.