Caribou (Rangifer tarandus)


Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family:    Cervidae
Size:    Height: 3 to 3.5 feet (90 to 105 cm) at the shoulder
Weight: 150 to 600 pounds (67.5 to 270 kg)
Diet: Leaves, herbs, lichens, sedges, mushrooms and small shrubs
Distribution: Scandinavia, northern Russia, Alaska, Canada and Greenland
Young:  1 per year
Animal Predators:  Wolves, but bears, coyotes and eagles occasionally prey on calves
IUCN Status: No special status
Terms: Female: Cow  Male: Bull   Young: Calf
Lifespan: Up to 20 years



       Caribou are also known as reindeer.

       They are the only deer species in which both the males and females grow antlers.

       Caribou are believed to have first been domesticated 7,000 years ago, and are still the only deer to be widely domesticated today.

       When they are only 24 hours old, caribou calves can outrun humans.


The antlers of the female grow up to 20 inches (50 cm) long, while those of the male can grow up to 60 inches in length (153 cm). In February they lose their antlers, but they begin to grow back in March. They usually have brown or grey-brown fur, with creamy white on the belly, neck, mane, the underside of the tail, and just above each hoof. The hooves are large and round, and help them to walk across snow.  



Caribou tend to live in treeless areas such as open arctic tundra or mountain tundra, but in the winter, they find more sheltered areas in woodlands. 


Feeding Habits

Caribou browse on leaves, herbs, lichens, sedges, mushroom and small shrubs.  



Mating season begins in October and seven to eight months later in the spring the pregnant cows each give birth to a reddish-brown calf. Unlike many other deer species, caribou calves are not born with spots. They usually weigh 11 to 13 pounds (5 to 6 kg) at birth and double that by the time they are 10 to 15 days old. Calves begin to eat solid food at two weeks and are weaned by the time they are six months.



Caribou are sociable animals that live in herds of 10 to 1,000, but may form groups of up to 100,000 animals that roam over large spaces, searching for food sources. They generally travel up to 3,000 miles (5,000 km) in one year. They are good swimmers, using their hooves as paddles, and do not hesitate when having to cross a large body of water.  



One subspecies, the Peary Caribou (Rangifer tarandus pearyi), is considered Endangered by the IUCN Red List as well as Environment Canada's Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The Woodland Caribou  (Rangifer tarandus caribou) is also listed by Environment Canada as Threatened in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Northwest Territories, Ontario and Saskatchewan, and Endangered in Quebec. They were once abundant throughout Europe and Asia but were hunted to near extinction in the 1600s. 



The Audubon Society Field Guide of North American Mammals, Whitaker, John O. Jr., Alfred A. Knopf, New York 1980