The mythical reindeer, vital to native Arctic peoples for millennia
What you need to know about the Caribou
Our Expert Says… "Female caribou don't lose their antlers over winter - so Santa's Rudolf and his crew were obviously not males! The caribou has always been such an important species for both humans and hunting mammals in the arctic north that the human and natural history of the north would have been very different without them."
The caribou is known as the reindeer in Europe. They are found in the arctic and sub-arctic areas of North American and Eurasia in habitats including forests, mountains, and tundra. There are more than 15 sub-species of caribou currently recognized.
Caribou are both migratory and sedentary and their herding habits vary by location. There is a migrating herd of Siberian caribou that consists of up to 1 million individuals, although North American populations seem to be under pressure, with herd sizes down to under 10,000.
Some of the North American sub-species can claim to have the longest migrations of any land mammal, covering over 3,000 miles every year. As well as long-distance stamina, caribou can move quickly when they need to. Adults can run at up to 50mph, and even day-old calves could outsprint Usain Bolt!
Caribou have special adaptations to survive in harsh Arctic weather. One such is that the arteries and veins in their legs are closely intertwined, allowing the returning cooler blood in the veins to lower the temperature of the arterial blood. This method of heat exchange minimizes the amount of heat the caribou loses through the skin, enabling them to regulate their body temperature in greater extremes of weather than other mammals.
Males are larger than females, typically weighing around 180kg (400lb) and standing up to 1.5m (60”) at the shoulder. There is a sub-species called the Svalbard Reindeer that is much smaller, typically standing half the size at the shoulder compared to other sub-species.
Caribou has always been an important resource for native Arctic peoples. They are hunted for meat, fur, and antler across their whole range. North American caribou were not traditionally herded, whereas the northern European reindeer was and is the world’s only semi-domesticated deer, having been domesticated for centuries by various native peoples, including the Sami.
Caribou: Interesting facts
Within NE Greenland Norwegian hunters wiped out the Caribou, and they still absent here, although they will hopefully return via the 'wildlife corridor' across the very north of Greenland.