Caribou Facts | Churchill Wildlife Guide
For eons, indigenous cultures have relied on the "deer of the North" for food and clothing. A wealth of caribou would bring celebrations and feasting, while a scarcity meant famine and hardship. An iconic symbol of the North, this social herd animal—equally comfortable in the boreal forest and on the open tundra—makes more extensive migrations and occurs in larger herd numbers than any other North American land mammal.
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 the 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
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
Photo Credit: Denali National Park and Preserve (Caribou) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons