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.
Photo: istockphoto.com/Paul Loewen
Caribou subspecies: Peary caribou
Peary caribou (Rangifer tarandus pearyi)
are distinct from other caribou in Canada. With a smaller build and lighter coloured
fur, they look deer-like compared to the other subspecies of caribou.
On average they weigh 60 kilograms and stand about 1 metre tall.
In winter, the Peary caribou’s coat is completely white; in
summer the top of the coat from head to tail turns a light shade
of grey, while the underbelly and legs remain white. When the antlers
first grow in, they are covered in grey velvet.
Peary caribou are only found in the Queen Elizabeth Islands in
Canada and on the northwest coast of Greenland. They are divided
into three main herds: the Bank’s Island population, the
Low Arctic population and the High Arctic population. The Peary
herd stays in small groups and individual animals rarely venture
away from the herd. The average lifespan is 4.5 years with a maximum
of 15 years.
Click for more
The desolate conditions of the Arctic make living a challenge
for Peary caribou. They roam the islands wherever they can find
food, but there is no large migration as with their mainland relatives.
These caribou travel where the food is most abundant: river valleys
and upland plains in summer; hilltops and ridges in winter as
food is easily accessed under thin layers of snow. These herbivores
graze on willow, herbs and grasses, and twigs and bark. Building
up fat stores through continuous feeding offers a better chance
at survival, whether it means surviving harsh winter conditions
or being able to reproduce.
Studies on the Peary caribou only started in the early 1960s.
Since then the numbers of reported populations have continually
decreased. In 2004, COSEWIC declared the Peary caribou an endangered
The dawson caribou (Rangifer tarandus dawsoni) were
also an island herd formerly found on Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte
Islands). This species is now extinct. As of 1908, the last three
caribou were killed — their pelts and bones are preserved
and displayed at The Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria.
Though information is scarce, the dawson caribou were described
as having a small build, light-coloured fur, and underdeveloped
antlers — females had no antlers. COSEWIC officially classified
the dawson caribou as extinct in 2000.