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.
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.