What Is a Caribou?
The Caribou, also called caribou in North America, is a large species of arctic deer with sub-arctic, tundra, and mountain distribution, native mostly to boreal, sub-tropical, and tundra areas of north/central Europe, Asia, Russia, and North America. In fact, it is the most common species of forest deer in that area. It is also one of the most widely distributed species across the world. It is believed to have a population of up to 15 million across the tundra in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, The United States, and certain parts of Mongolia and China.
Social structure. These animals are social animals, in contrast to other types of wild animals. They live in family groups called flocks. The largest colony is found in Alaskan coastal waters, with another large flock found in Baffin Bay, offshore of Prince William Sound. The female Caribou will give birth to one or two babies at a time, followed by a new mother to care for them.
Average lifespan is around five years; however, there is considerable variation in age and survival rates among Caribou. Age and sex play important roles in their survival. In the past, the largest single concentration of Caribou was in Alaska; since then, less have been recorded in the area. One exception is in some parts of the Canadian Arctic, where there are still active Caribou populations.
Coloration. The body is generally white with blackish spots, except for a strip on the back, between the shoulder blades, which can be white, black, blue or even fawn. The legs and tail are covered with a short bushy tuft. The head is large, floppy, rounded and bushy, with large dark eyes that can detect land from a distance. The ears are tipped by long, backward-pointing horns.
Intelligent and curious animals; they are quick and react to what they view as a threat. This ability, along with their great sense of smell, has made them successful hunters in many environments. For centuries, people in southern Canada and Alaska have relied on the tracking and trailing of these animals in hopes of catching a trophy Caribou. In fact, in some areas, bears have been known to kill a Caribou on sight for their meat. It’s one of the few animals to prey on humans; they also eat rats, reindeers and insects. Their long flexible horns can kill or injure a man-sized animal if struck directly.
What To Bring. Caribou have fleshy feet that make walking uncomfortable. They’re also sensitive to cold; so you’ll need warm clothing when out in the winter. When spring comes, it’s time to pack up your gear and head out on the trail for their yearly migration. Their temperament makes them excellent companions, but don’t try to take too many with you on your trip; the more pets you have, the more likely they’ll fight. If you have a large dog, keep him leashed and on a leash while you walk.