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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.

Photo: istockphoto.com/Tom De Bruyne   
Caribou subspecies: Woodland caribou
Woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus-caribou) are the largest of all caribou subspecies in Canada. On average, male caribou are 150 kilograms and approximately 1.2 metres tall. Woodland caribou have the darkest fur coat — grey in winter and brown in summer. They also have patches of white fur on the underbelly, behind, neck and above the hooves. The antlers are thicker, wider and more compact in comparison with the other subspecies. The average lifespan is 4.5 years with a maximum of 15 years.

The woodland caribou can be found across Canada, except in Nunavut, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. As the largest herd in Canada, they are divided into five major populations based on where they dwell: Northern Mountain, Southern Mountain, Atlantic-Gaspesie, Boreal and Newfoundland. Woodland caribou live in small groups and can be found in the Mackenzie Mountains and the boreal forest between the mountains and the Canadian Shield.


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The majority of these herds remain in the forest all year. Those that migrate with changing seasons do so over short distances only. Their main source of food is lichens, and in summer they favour old-growth forests filled with an abundance of greenery, such as grass, moss, willow leaves and plants. In winter they can be found digging for tree or ground lichens in the uplands, marshes or hills, where the snow levels are lower.

As the numbers in woodland caribou herds have decreased over the years, their habitats have shrunk too, limiting the areas in which they can be found. COSEWIC has observed each of the major populations. In 2002, it declared the Northern Mountain population at special status, Southern Mountain threatened, Atlantic-Gaspesie endangered, Boreal threatened and the Newfoundland population not at risk.

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
10,000 caribou from the George River herd died in 1984 crossing the Caniapiscau River in Quebec during their fall migration. A nearby power dam was blamed for causing flooding in the river.
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