The woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) is a herbivore, and a member of the cervidae (deer) family (which also includes mule deer, white-tailed deer, moose and elk). Woodland caribou are closely related to barren ground caribou (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus) but differ in their habitat (forest vs. tundra) and woodland caribou do not migrate as long-distances as barren-ground herds. However, woodland caribou do show seasonal migrations of short distances. Caribou feed on lichen in the winter, including ground and tree lichen. In summer they eat mushrooms, grasses, sedges, twigs and leaves.Their antlers provide nutrients for rodents and other animals such as porcupine. On the island of Newfoundland, the primary predators of caribou calves are lynx, black bear and coyote. Adult mortality is usually due to disease or injury.
How can I identify the caribou?
Caribou are smaller than moose, and average 110 cm at shoulder height for males, and 104 cm for females with average weights of 232 lbs for males and 177 lbs for females. Both males and females have antlers. Bucks grow antlers between May-July, with the velvet shedding by September and the antlers dropping between November and February. Average male antler length is 96 cm. Does develop antlers during the summer from June-September, and shed the velvet in late October. They drop off their antlers with calving (April-May). Average female antler length is 39 cm. Caribou colour varies with subspecies and season but is usually darker in summer/fall and lighter in winter/spring. Colouration is usually brownish on face, back, legs, and chest, and lighter on belly, rump, underside of tail and just above hooves.
Caribou tracks are distinguished from moose in that they are shorter, rounder and closer together. They also are characterized by a clear imprint of the dew claw (2nd and 4th digits) which are not as clearly visible in moose tracks, except when it is running.
Figure adapted from Burt and Grossenheider (1976) in Goodwin (no date).
What do I do if I see a caribou or caribou sign?
Please report it! If you can take close-up pictures of tracks, scat, and note the location (either with a GPS, a note on a topo map, or by flagging the location) that would be helpful. Please log your sighting on this website. We are trying to learn as much as we can about this species, including a better understanding of the role it plays in the ecosystem. Please also note signs of caribou kills.
Tracking help: http://www.bear-tracker.com/General info: http://www.env.gov.nl.ca/snp/animals/caribou.htm
Banfield AWF. 1974. The Mammals of Canada. University of Toronto Press, Toronto ON.
Burt, W.H. And R. P. Grossenheider. 1976. A field guide to the mammals. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston. 289 p.
Goodwin L. no date. Woodland caribou in Northwestern Ontario: why they are different. Northwestern Ontario Boreal Forest Management Technical Note TN-07. Available online at: http://www.mnr.gov.on.ca/MNR_E005397.pdf
Terms (source: Oxford Dictionary of Biology)
herbivore: An animal that eats plants.
cervids: scientific name for the deer family, refers to species that carry antlers that are shed annually
artiodactyla: scientific name for the order that caribou (along with deer, bison, antilope and goats) belong to; refers to “cloven-hoofed mammal”.