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In-depth
Caribou in Canada
Across the country, caribou are struggling to survive in their ever-changing habitat. Facing a modern world, they are losing the battle.

Click on a caribou for more details on each subspecies.

Caribou subspecies: Caribou commonalities

For the Kids:
Check out CG Kids Animal of the Month for our fact sheet on Caribou (Rangifer tarandus).
Caribou are the only members of the deer family where both males and females have antlers. The antlers grow tall and flat, branching out forward — male antlers are larger. Calves have small spiky antlers that grow into a full rack as they mature, while older caribou’s antlers become sparser as they age. When antlers first develop they are covered in velvet — a fine, thin layer of skin filled with nerves and blood vessels that stimulate growth. At maximum growth, the velvet dries and falls off, leaving the branch-like antlers bright white. Antlers regenerate yearly; males tend to lose theirs after the mating season, while females retain theirs until spring.

Like antlers, hooves also alter with the changing seasons. The large, wide, curved hooves keep caribou from sinking in snow and function like paddles when swimming. In winter, the hard exterior of the hooves grow around the edges; the inner soft pad shrinks and is covered in hair to keep from freezing. This adaptation gives the caribou better traction to outrun predators and helps them dig through snow and ice to find food. In summer, these hard edges are worn away from walking across rocks and rough terrain; the inner soft pad grows to prevent caribou from sinking in swampy areas. Caribou also use their hooves as a defense mechanism. Small scent glands are located on the back of the legs, where the ankle meets the hoof. When caribou sense danger, they rise on their hind legs and release a scent to warn the rest of the herd.


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Caribou fur also adapts to the extreme weather conditions. Although colouration varies among the subspecies, the shade of their fur changes with summer and winter. The thick coat is made up of long hollow hair that insulates in the winter and provides the caribou with buoyancy for swimming in summer.

Caribou are relatively quiet animals. Within the herd, they communicate through snorting and grunting. On cold days, a clicking noise is audible as caribou walk — from the motion of bones and tendons around the hooves. Another distinct sound is the clattering of antlers as bulls fight each other around mating season.

The largest threats to caribou are wolves, grizzly bears and golden eagles. Caribou are fast and can outrun their predators — wolves and bears attack sick or old caribou that are slower in the herd. Golden eagles are largely a threat to newborns. Flies don’t pose a huge threat to caribou, but they are cause for great annoyance. Warble flies lay eggs on the caribou’s skin and the larvae emerges and burrows into the caribou’s back, eating skin and fat. Nosebot flies causes breathing difficulties for caribou as they hatch in the caribou’s throat and lungs. To avoid the swarm of flies, caribou try to run away, or stay close to others.

Caribou ranges

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Caribou in Canada
Introduction Changing times Northern significance Caribou subspecies Map Photo Gallery
Video Gallery
Photo: US Fish & Wildlife Serv./B.Stevens
To count a herd as accurately as possible, they are tracked by radio collars. When the herds combine into a large group, they are photographed. The number of caribou counted in the photo is compared with the number of radio collars initially dispersed and an estimation is given through the ratio.
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