Caribou Facts | Alaska Wildlife Guide
Though they often follow similar migration patterns and frequent the same seasonal ranges, caribou can be unpredictable and diverge from their traditional routes. During summer, however, they tend to head to Alaska's coast where tidal flats offer a respite from the ubiquitous black flies of the interior.
Physical CharacteristicsBoth sexes of caribou have antlers, a fact that differentiates them from all other deer species. The shape of each animal’s antlers varies significantly, and many believe that no two pairs of antlers look the same. Adult bulls shed their large antlers early in winter, but cows retain theirs until June when calving time arrives. This way, pregnant females can claim and protect optimal feeding areas through the winter when getting food of the highest quality is imperative to nurturing their quickly developing fetuses.
Numerous critical adaptations enable caribou to
The caribou’s coat, made of dense, hollow club-shaped hair, shields the animal, including its feet, tail
Giant feet that act as snowshoes allow caribou to stay on top of soft snow, another necessary adaptation for this environment. Their wide, sharp hooves also allow them to effortlessly break and clear snow when they dig craters in search of food.
CalvingThe majority of caribou herds have been named after the remote locations of their calving grounds. Each spring, pregnant cows and their yearling fawns march to the areas of their birth, trekking 15 to 20 miles a day. They cross vast stretches of land, led by memories of past migrations. Cows rush determinedly towards their destination, while bulls lag behind at a leisurely pace.
After reaching the calving ground, the females scatter. The previous autumn, most
Calving at the same time has its benefits, but it also leaves newborn fawns vulnerable. If a blizzard were to strike at any point during the crucial five days of birthing, or if freezing rain douses the fawns’ insulated fur, the calves can face death. In years of strife, fawns make up less than five percent of the herd, while in good years, they constitute up to 25 percent.
PredationWolves and humans are the caribou’s primary predators. Wolves are skillful hunters, strategically working in teams to chase down or ambush their prey. They are more than capable of taking down a healthy
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