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Caribou—no shiny noses

Photo courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service

Just antlers for everyone

One deer certainly gets a lot of attention at the end of the year, thanks to a well known story and song about Santa Claus, a foggy Christmas Eve, and a flying reindeer named Rudolph.

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’s story was created in 1939 by an advertising executive, Robert May. A decade later, Gene Autry increased Rudolph’s popularity when he recorded a musical version of the story in a song composed by Johnny Marks.

Popular culture aside, in North America, Rudolph the reindeer is known as a caribou, but in Europe, he’s called a reindeer. However, the only caribou called reindeer in Alaska and Canada are domestic animals, not wild or free-roaming.

Perhaps the most unexpected fact about caribou is that they are the only members of the cervid (deer) family where both males and females grow antlers.

Caribou don’t fly, of course, but they are remarkable, sure-footed creatures. They have large hooves which are concave in appearance and spread widely for support as they walk on soft tundra and snow. They are also good swimmers and use their feet and hooves as paddles.

Back ToYBO Home PageThese North American natives call the Arctic and subarctic regions home.

Caribou become part of one of the world’s most spectacular migrations as thousands and thousands move from their winter to summer ranges or pasture, some migrating as far as 3,000 miles within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Most adult male caribou—bulls—weigh between 350 and 400 pounds, but many 700 pound bulls have been recorded. Mature females—cows—range from 175 to 225 pounds, and their newborn calves typically weigh around 13 pounds at birth. Calves quickly double their weight within 10 to 15 days.

All reindeer and caribou in the world are the same species, but there are seven subspecies: Barrenground, Svalbard, European, Finnish forest reindeer, Greenland, Woodland and Peary.

In Idaho and Washington, woodland caribou are found in a small portion of the Selkirk Mountains which extend into British Columbia. Woodland and Barrenground caribou are both found in Alaska. In northern and southwestern Alaska, caribou tend to be smaller than those in the interior and southern parts of the state.

The world population of caribou is estimated at five million, in North America, Russia and Scandinavia, and the entire population of woodland caribou lives in Canada.

Learn more about caribou by clicking here, and more about caribou migration by clicking here.

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