Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

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Maximum longevity: 21.7 years (captivity) Observations: A gradual ageing process has been documented in this species (Weladji et al. 2002). One captive specimen lived 21.7 years (Richard Weigl 2005).
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Caribou, and their domestic counterparts - reindeer, have been very important in the cultures of native peoples througout the arctic. Several Siberian, Scandinavian, and American native cultures are built around herding caribou.

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Shefferly, N. 2000. "Rangifer tarandus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Rangifer_tarandus.html
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Nancy Shefferly, Animal Diversity Web
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Kyle C. Joly, Alaska Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey
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Tanya Dewey, Animal Diversity Web
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Behavior

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Caribou communicate among themselves through vocal, visual, chemical, and tactile cues. They have a keen sense of smell, which allows them to find food buried deep under snow.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Shefferly, N. 2000. "Rangifer tarandus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Rangifer_tarandus.html
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Nancy Shefferly, Animal Diversity Web
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Kyle C. Joly, Alaska Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey
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Tanya Dewey, Animal Diversity Web
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Conservation Status

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Although Alaska, with its more than 30 herds, has nearly double the number of caribou (1,000,000) than people, caribou in the contiguous US are considered endangered. Caribou in Alaska are of the barren-ground subspecies, whereas extant (WA, ID) and extinct (ME) herds are of the woodland subspecies. The Selkirk Herd, inhabiting WA, ID, and southern British Columbia numbers only around 30 members. They are listed as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act in these regions. Loss of habitat, overhunting, and other factors has contributed to the precarious position the woodland caribou now exists in the US. Worldwide, the caribou population is estimated to be around 5 million. The largest herds now occur in Alaska, Canada, and Russia. Humans have heavily hunted this species. They have been extinct in most parts of Europe since at least the 1600s. Exploration for oil and minerals in Canada may threaten woodland caribou habitat. High Arctic caribou populations are also thought to be vulnerable.

Despite their status in the wild, domestic herds of reindeer flourish in the Old World, in Canada, in Alaska, and in the lower 48 states including Michigan.

US Federal List: endangered

CITES: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Shefferly, N. 2000. "Rangifer tarandus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Rangifer_tarandus.html
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Nancy Shefferly, Animal Diversity Web
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Kyle C. Joly, Alaska Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey
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Tanya Dewey, Animal Diversity Web
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Benefits

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There are no negative impacts of caribou.

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Shefferly, N. 2000. "Rangifer tarandus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Rangifer_tarandus.html
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Nancy Shefferly, Animal Diversity Web
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Kyle C. Joly, Alaska Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey
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Tanya Dewey, Animal Diversity Web
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Benefits

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Caribou have been used extensively for their meat, fur and antlers. Reindeer, the domesticated subspecies of caribou, have been herded throughout their range for thousands of years.

Positive Impacts: food ; body parts are source of valuable material

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Shefferly, N. 2000. "Rangifer tarandus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Rangifer_tarandus.html
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Nancy Shefferly, Animal Diversity Web
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Kyle C. Joly, Alaska Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey
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Tanya Dewey, Animal Diversity Web
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Associations

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Through their foraging activities, caribou have a dramatic impact on communities of vegetation throughout their range. They are also important prey species for large predators, such as bears and wolves, especially during the calving season.

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Shefferly, N. 2000. "Rangifer tarandus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Rangifer_tarandus.html
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Nancy Shefferly, Animal Diversity Web
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Kyle C. Joly, Alaska Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey
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Tanya Dewey, Animal Diversity Web
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Trophic Strategy

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Caribou are primarily grazing herbivores. Their diet is most variable during the summer, when they consume the leaves of willows and birches, mushrooms, cotton grass, sedges and numerous other ground dwelling species of vegetation. Lichens are an important component of the diet, especially in winter, but are not eaten exclusively.

Plant Foods: leaves; roots and tubers; wood, bark, or stems; bryophytes; lichens

Other Foods: fungus

Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore )

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Shefferly, N. 2000. "Rangifer tarandus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Rangifer_tarandus.html
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Nancy Shefferly, Animal Diversity Web
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Kyle C. Joly, Alaska Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey
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Tanya Dewey, Animal Diversity Web
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Distribution

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Caribou have a nearly circumpolar distribution. The woodland subspecies of caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) can be found as far south as 46o north latitude, while other subspecies (Peary caribou [R. t. pearyi] and Svalbard reindeer [R. t. platyrhynchus]) can be found as far north as 80o north latitude. Once found as far south as Germany, Great Britain, Poland, and Maine (USA), over-hunting and habitat destruction have diminished the historic range of caribou.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); palearctic (Native )

Other Geographic Terms: holarctic

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Shefferly, N. 2000. "Rangifer tarandus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Rangifer_tarandus.html
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Nancy Shefferly, Animal Diversity Web
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Kyle C. Joly, Alaska Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey
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Tanya Dewey, Animal Diversity Web
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Habitat

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Caribou inhabit arctic tundra and subarctic (boreal) forest regions.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; polar ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: tundra ; taiga ; forest

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Shefferly, N. 2000. "Rangifer tarandus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Rangifer_tarandus.html
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Nancy Shefferly, Animal Diversity Web
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Kyle C. Joly, Alaska Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey
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Tanya Dewey, Animal Diversity Web
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Life Expectancy

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Females generally have longer life spans than males, some over 15 years. Bulls are highly susceptible to predation after the rut, which can leave them injured and/or exhausted. Bulls typically live less than 10 years in the wild. Average life expectancy is 4.5 years.

Average lifespan
Status: wild:
10 to 15 years.

Average lifespan
Status: wild:
4.5 years.

Average lifespan
Sex: male
Status: wild:
8.0 years.

Average lifespan
Sex: female
Status: wild:
10.0 years.

Average lifespan
Status: wild:
15.0 years.

Average lifespan
Status: captivity:
20.2 years.

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Shefferly, N. 2000. "Rangifer tarandus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Rangifer_tarandus.html
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Nancy Shefferly, Animal Diversity Web
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Kyle C. Joly, Alaska Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey
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Tanya Dewey, Animal Diversity Web
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Morphology

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The various subspecies of caribou display a wide range of size. Generally speaking, the subspecies inhabiting the more southerly latitudes are larger than their northern cousins. Caribou can have shoulder heights of up to 120 cm and total length ranges from 150 to 230 cm. They have short tails. There is marked sexual dimorphism, with males of some subspecies being twice as large as females. The coat of the caribou is an excellent, lightweight insulation against the extreme cold temperatures they face. The hairs are hollow and taper sharply which helps trap heat close to the body and also makes them more buoyant. Color varies by subspecies, region, sex, and season from the very dark browns of woodland caribou bulls in summer to nearly white in Greenland (R. t. groenlandicus) and high Arctic caribou. White areas are often present on the belly, neck, and above the hooves. The hooves are large and concave, which support them in snow and soft tundra, conditions that they often face. The broad hooves are also useful when swimming. Caribou make an audible clicking noise while walking, which is produced from tendons rubbing across a bone in the foot. Rangifer tarandus is the only species of deer in which both sexes have antlers. Mature bulls can carry enormous and complex antlers, whereas cows and young animals generally have smaller and simpler ones. Mature bulls usually shed their antlers shortly after the rut whereas cows can keep theirs until spring.

Range mass: 55 to 318 kg.

Range length: 150 to 230 cm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger; ornamentation

Average basal metabolic rate: 119.66 W.

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Shefferly, N. 2000. "Rangifer tarandus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Rangifer_tarandus.html
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Nancy Shefferly, Animal Diversity Web
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Kyle C. Joly, Alaska Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey
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Tanya Dewey, Animal Diversity Web
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Associations

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Calves are highly vulnerable to predation by bears, wolves, and other predators during their first week of life. Healthy adult caribou are less susceptible to predation until old age and illness weakens them. By traveling in herds, caribou increase the number of individuals that can watch for predators.

Known Predators:

  • grizzly bears (Ursus arctos)
  • gray wolves (Canis lupus)
  • American black bears (Ursus americanus)
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Shefferly, N. 2000. "Rangifer tarandus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Rangifer_tarandus.html
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Nancy Shefferly, Animal Diversity Web
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Kyle C. Joly, Alaska Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey
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Tanya Dewey, Animal Diversity Web
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Reproduction

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Males compete for access to females during the fall rut, which occurs in October and early November. During this time males may engage in battles that leave them injured and exhausted. Dominant males restrict access to small groups of 5 to 15 females. Males stop feeding during this time and lose much of their body reserves.

Mating System: polygynous

In late August and September, prime bulls shed the velvet that surrounds their antlers. Sparring begins shortly there after, with the rut typically occurring in October. Females can be sexually mature as early as 16 months of age but more commonly at 28 months. With good nutrition females give birth to calves each year, but may skip years in poor ranges. A single calf, weighing 3 to 12 kg, is born approximately 228 days after impregnation, in May or June. Twinning has been reported, but is very rare. The suckling period rarely last past the first week of July and grazing commences shortly after birth. Calves rely mainly on foraging for nutrition after 45 days old.

Breeding interval: Caribou breed once yearly.

Breeding season: Breeding typically occurs in October.

Range number of offspring: 2 (high) .

Average number of offspring: 1.

Average gestation period: 7.6 months.

Average weaning age: 1.5 months.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 16 (low) months.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 28 months.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; viviparous

Average birth mass: 6500 g.

Average gestation period: 228 days.

Average number of offspring: 1.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
Sex: male:
680 days.

Newborn calves are precocial, being able to suckle minutes after birth, follow their mother after an hour and are capable of outrunning a human at one day of age. Calves nurse exclusively for their first month, after which they begin to graze. They will continue to nurse occasionally through early fall, when they become independent.

Parental Investment: no parental involvement; precocial ; pre-fertilization (Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)

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Shefferly, N. 2000. "Rangifer tarandus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Rangifer_tarandus.html
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Nancy Shefferly, Animal Diversity Web
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Kyle C. Joly, Alaska Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey
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Tanya Dewey, Animal Diversity Web
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Physiology

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Seasonally breeding mammals typically use the annual change in the photoperiod cycle (light-darkness ratio) to drive rhythmic daily melatonin signals from the pineal gland, providing a critical cue to time seasonal reproduction. The daily light cycle resets the animal's internal clock (circadian clock) roughly every 24 hours, keeping it synchronized with the environment. Production of melatonin and other hormones rises and falls with this daily cycle, regulated by the internal clock. At high latitudes, however, where there is continuous light or continuous darkness for months at a time, no photoperiod information is available for much of the year. Lu et al. (2010) studied two circadian clock genes in fibroblast cells of Arctic Reindeer and found they did not turn on and off on a daily cycle, as in most other animals that have been studied. However, melatonin production responded strongly to light and darkness (dropping in the light and rising in the dark), regardless of the activity of the circadian clock genes being monitored. Lu et al. suggest that in the Arctic environment, where a 24 hour cycle has little meaning, natural selection has reduced or eliminated the circadian clock in Reindeer (and perhaps other Arctic animals). Instead, they speculate, informative melatonin signals associated with the spring and fall equinoxes (when daily light cycles are available) may directly entrain a ‘‘circannual clock’’ [24, 29] that may not involve circadian mechanisms. (Lu et al. 2010) This phenomenon must be investigated in other Arctic animals, and using other genes in Reindeer, but these data suggest that, as might be expected, time-keeping in the far north may be quite different than at lower latitudes.

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Associated Plant Communities

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More info for the terms: bog, climax, codominant, cover, forest, lichen, lichens, shrub, shrubs, tundra, woodland

Caribou are considered part of the climax biota because of their dependence on late successional forests and associated lichen forage [68,101]. Caribou use old-growth and mature coniferous stands across their range [80,97]. Woodlands with sparse overstories of black spruce-paper birch (Picea mariana-Betula papyrifera) or jack pine (Pinus banksiana) and a dominant ground cover of lichens are heavily utilized [57,79,101]. Caribou frequent peatlands, bogs, muskegs, lake shores, and other wetland and riparian areas [37,61,97].

Alaska: Black spruce and white spruce (Picea glauca) in pure or codominant stands with lichen-moss understories are heavily utilized in Alaska [57,103]. Sedge meadows dominated by water sedge (Carex aquatilis), rock sedge (C. saxatilis), and tall cottonsedge (Eriophorum angustifolium) provide year-round forage. Barren ground caribou also utilize willow stands dominated by feltleaf willow (Salix alaxensis), Barclay's willow (S. barclayi), grayleaf willow (S. glauca), tealeaf willow (S. pulchra), and Richardson's willow (S. richardsonii). Grasslands dominated by rough fescue (Festuca altaica) with birch (Betula spp.) and willow (Salix spp.) associates are frequently utilized. Bog birch (Betula glandulosa) dominates some landscapes at 3,000 to 4,000 feet (900-1,200 m), with tealeaf willow and rough fescue codominant at 3,000 to 3,500 feet (900-1,100 m) [103]. Mountains <7,900 feet (2,400 m) in Denali National Park are characterized by shrub tundra dominated by birch and willow [1,18] and alpine zones dominated by sedges (Carex spp.) [1]. High-elevation tundra in Denali National Park is characterized by mountain avens (Dryas spp.) [18]. A mosaic of spruce (Picea spp.)-dominated forests, cottonsedge (Eriophorum spp.)-dominated tundra, and riparian areas with mixed spruce and willow exists below 2,600 feet (800 m) in Denali National Park [1,18].

Canadian Arctic Archipelago: Wilkinson and others [117] identified 5 distinct caribou habitats in the archipelago. Barren uplands are characterized by arctic dryad (D. integrifolia), sedges, willows, grasses, and lichens. Sedge meadows are dominated by water sedge (C. aquatilis var. stans), white cottonsedge (Eriophorum scheuchzeri), and Fisher's tundragrass (Dupontia fisheri). Sand dune habitats are dominated by feltleaf willow, polar willow (Salix pseudopolaris), dwarf fireweed (Chamerion latifolium), pale Indian paintbrush (Castilleja pallida), and grasses. Tundra tussocks are characterized by willows, arctic dryad, sedges, and grasses. Lakes and lake edges are dominated by water sedge, pendantgrass (Arctophila fulva), and false semaphoregrass (Pleuropogon sabinei) [117].

Idaho, Washington, and British Columbia: Western hemlock-western redcedar (Tsuga heterophylla-Thuja plicata) communities are important in to woodland caribou during autumn and early winter [6,36,102]. Mixed stands of old growth Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir (Picea engelmannii-Abies lasiocarpa) are preferred in late winter [6,36]. Caribou occasionally use interior lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia) forests [24,36].

Alberta: Black spruce-tamarack (Larix laricina) dominates lowland fens and bogs, while uplands are dominated by white spruce-jack pine-quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) [76].

Northwest Territories, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba: Dominant species include black spruce, white spruce, and jack pine [77,80,89,99,101]. White birch, tamarack, quaking aspen, and balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera) are common associates [77,80,89,99]. Jack pine is abundant on some upland sites. Dominant shrubs on upland sites include mountain cranberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea), bog blueberry (V. uliginosum), velvetleaf blueberry (V. myrtilloides), and bog Labrador tea (Ledum groenlandicum). Willow, birch, mountain alder (Alnus viridis subsp. crispa), white birch, and tamarack border lakes and streams [80]. Black spruce dominates mature and intermediate bog habitats. Alders (Alnus spp.) and willows form the understory in intermediate bog and bog-forest habitats [97].

Ontario: Star reindeer lichen (Cladonia alpestris), reindeer lichen (C. rangiferina and Cladonia spp.), and spineless reindeer lichen (C. mitis)- rich forests serve as late winter habitat for woodland caribou [116].

Quebec: Alpine zones >3,300 feet (1000 m) are characterized by ericaceous shrubs, lichens, mosses, and graminoids, while subalpine zones 3,000 to 3,300 feet (900-1000 m) are dominated by open white spruce and balsam fir (Picea balsamea) forest [82].

Newfoundland: Balsam fir-dominated forests are heavily utilized [74].

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Luensmann, Peggy. 2007. Rangifer tarandus. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/animals/mammal/rata/all.html

Common Names

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More info for the term: woodland

caribou

reindeer

woodland caribou

mountain caribou

barren ground caribou

Peary caribou
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Luensmann, Peggy. 2007. Rangifer tarandus. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/animals/mammal/rata/all.html

Cover Requirements

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Luensmann, Peggy. 2007. Rangifer tarandus. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/animals/mammal/rata/all.html

Direct Effects of Fire

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More info for the terms: taiga, tundra

Since caribou are highly mobile, the chances of caribou being directly killed by fire are minimal [33]. Fire-related deaths of large mammals are typically a result of smoke inhalation [63]. Evidence of caribou deaths via smoke inhalation was not found in this literature review. A small group of caribou was seen lying in an open area with low vegetation that was completely surrounded by fire in Alaska [43]. The group was later observed moving away from the area without any apparent harm caused by the fire [43]. At no time did the observers indicate that the caribou appeared panicked by the fire. Many caribou herds spend the fire season in tundra habitats where fire danger is lower than in taiga habitats [33], so risk of mortality from fire is low for caribou in tundra.

Starvation following the loss of forage due to fire is a potential threat. During the winter following the large fires in Yellowstone National Park in 1988, thousands of elk (Cervus elaphus) died from starvation [63]. With a long-term loss of forage following fire, major declines in caribou herd size would likely result.

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Luensmann, Peggy. 2007. Rangifer tarandus. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/animals/mammal/rata/all.html

Food Habits

provided by Fire Effects Information System Animals
More info for the terms: bog, cover, lichen, lichens, selection, shrubs, tree, wildfire, woodland

Food availability influences food selection. Caribou prefer vascular plants and mushrooms but exploit other food sources when these are not available [12]. The vascular plant species most commonly eaten by caribou throughout the United States and Canada include the young buds, catkins, leaves, and/or sprouts of water sedge, water horsetail (E. fluviatile), mountain cranberry, velvetleaf blueberry, bog blueberry, arctic willow (S. arctica), sheathed cottonsedge (Eriophorum vaginatum), bog Labrador tea, northern Labrador tea (Ledum decumbens), bog birch, and leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata) [2,14,26,66,79,80,96,98,99,103,109]. Other locally important foods include arctic dryad, saxifrage (Saxifraga spp.), bog rosemary (Andromeda spp.), black crowberry (Empetrum nigrum), sheep-laurel (Kalmia angustifolia), bog-laurel (K. polifolia), spruce, jack pine, tamarack, sedges (Cyperaceae), blueberries (Vaccinium spp.), willows (Salix spp.), birches (Betula spp.), grasses, and mosses [12,14,27,66,80,96,98,103,109]. Fungi, especially Boletus spp., Coprinus spp., Lycoperdon spp., and Morchella spp., are readily eaten in late summer and fall [12,80,103]. After fall frost, caribou consume terrestrial lichens and evergreen leaves [12]. In addition to milk, calves as young as 2 weeks old ingest leaves of willows, bog Labrador tea, leaves and stems of sedges and black crowberry, and fruticose lichens, including cup lichens (Cladonia spp.) [103]. For more complete lists of caribou diets, see Bergerud [12,14], Cringan [27], Miller [80], and Skoog [103] .

Lichens are prominent in the caribou diet throughout the year, but reach greatest importance in winter [27,80,96,101]. Lichens commonly eaten are reindeer lichen, star reindeer lichen, spineless reindeer lichen, tree reindeer lichen (Cladonia arbuscula), other reindeer lichens (Cladonia spp.), cup lichens (C. amaurocraea and C. uncialis), cetraria lichen (Flavocetraria nivalis), Iceland-moss (Cetraria islandica), felt lichen (Peltigera canina), and snow lichens (Stereocaulon spp.) [2,12,14,26,80,99,101,108]. Other lichens, including witch's hair lichens (Alectoria jubata, A. sarmentosa, and A. ochroleuca) and brittle lichens (Cornicularia spp.) are locally important food sources when available [2,26]. In British Columbia, horsehair lichens (Bryoria spp.), which are highly valued as forage in the area, are more abundant on subalpine fir and Engelmann spruce than on whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis), lodgepole pine, or alpine larch (Larix lyallii) [60].

Lichens are the primary foods of caribou in winter [27,80,96,101]. However, lichens are generally low in nutrients, and caribou often lose weight with a winter diet heavy in lichens [12,33,80]. Caribou may persist on a diet that limits or excludes lichens, since caribou are able to exploit vascular plant resources when available [14,33]. In winter, snow accumulation influences caribou diet [12,92]. By mid-April in Saskatchewan, snow hardening made it difficult for the caribou to forage beneath the snow, so arboreal lichens were the primary available food source followed by terrestrial lichens, bog Labrador tea, and other deciduous shrubs and trees [79,80]. When caribou population densities were high on the Slate Islands in Lake Superior, caribou lightly browsed mountain maple (Acer spicatum), American mountain-ash (Sorbus americana), willows, red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericea), and downy arrowwood (Viburnum rafinesquianum) in winter [27]. Woodland caribou in British Columbia forage on arboreal lichens, subalpine fir, Engelmann spruce, and western hemlock in early winter when show accumulation is rapid. Oregon boxwood (Paxistima myrsinites) and other vascular plants were eaten in early winter when snow accumulation was slow [92]. When the snow forms a hard crust in open habitats, caribou move to forests to feed on arboreal lichens [12]. During periods when snow cover was ≤20 inches (51 cm) deep, woodland caribou in British Columbia fed on grouse whortleberry (Vaccinium scoparium), cup lichens, and horsehair lichens. When snow was ≥24 inches (62 cm) deep, they almost exclusively ate horsehair lichens and possibly small amounts of witch's hair lichen [60]. Overgrazing by caribou has reduced the amount of available forage and habitat on Alaskan islands, while wildfire has reduced lichen availability on the Alaskan mainland [106].

During northward migration in Saskatchewan in mid-February, barren ground caribou fed in early morning and early evening [80]. Caribou tend to move almost continuously, even when foraging, which reduces the possibility of overgrazing a feeding area [103]. Snow softens by late winter or early spring, making it possible for the caribou to feed on terrestrial lichens and ericaceous plants under the melting snow [80]. Caribou dig craters in the snow to forage for lichens and other vegetation [12,17]. Caribou prefer to crater in soft, shallow snow [96]. Only one caribou feeds in a crater at a time, and they compete for the most preferred craters [80].

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Luensmann, Peggy. 2007. Rangifer tarandus. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/animals/mammal/rata/all.html

Habitat-related Fire Effects

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More info for the terms: bog, cover, density, fire frequency, fire regime, fire-return interval, forbs, forest, frequency, herbaceous, high-severity fire, lichen, lichens, litter, low-severity fire, mean fire-return interval, natural, potential natural vegetation, seed, selection, severity, shrubs, taiga, top-kill, tree, tundra, woodland

In black spruce-white birch forests, jack pine forests, and unburned tundra, caribou generally avoid burned areas ≤35 years after fire and show a preference for communities >50 years of age [57,96,97,101]. Caribou in the Northwest Territories utilized 151- to 250-year-old stands more than any other forest age class [108]. Average caribou use of black spruce forest in northern Canada was highest in >120-year-old stands and lowest in 1- to 10-year-old stands [99]. Jack pine forest and mixed-forest habitats that burned 4 to 5 years previously were significantly avoided (P<0.01) in Manitoba [97]. Woodland caribou showed a significant preference (P<0.01) for foraging and/or traveling in mature bog, intermediate bog, semiopen bog, sedge meadow, bog-forest, and jack pine forest, around lakes, and on roads that had not burned in ≥55 years in Manitoba [97]. A fire simulation model suggests that frequent fire and large fires reduce spruce-lichen habitats preferred by caribou [94]. In Alaska during winter, caribou were observed feeding along the edge of a burn in birch and ericaceous shrub-sedge communities near moraines [46]. In another Alaska study, edge habitats (<1,600 feet (500 m) of burned/unburned stand edge) were highly preferred over habitats >1,600 feet into either the stand or the burned area. Use of burned areas in Alaska was highest in November to December, but declined during late winter and spring [57]. In addition, unburned remnants and unburned stands adjacent to recent burns are used for feeding [78,79,97]. Caribou rarely forage within recent burns [78,79].

Caribou use burned areas for several reasons. For instance, Miller [79,81] reported that caribou used burned areas as refuges to escape predation. In another study, calving occurred in a recent burn adjacent to a traditional calving area in Alaska [34]. Recent burns are also commonly used during migratory and nonmigratory movements [78,81,96]. In late winter, caribou in Saskatchewan and Manitoba migrated through burned areas in long single lines [78]. Caribou also traverse burned areas between mature forest fragments and meadows [46,101]. Fire in tundra habitats removes woody debris, which facilitates travel [96]. However, burns in forested habitats may inhibit travel between unburned foraging sites. Surface fires can kill black spruce and burn off their roots, making standing snags susceptible to windthrow [70]. Windthrow in recent forest burns may hamper the movements of caribou [61,96,101].

The influence of burns on travel appears to depend on habitat characteristics. Large fires in Quebec during 1954 to 1955 appeared to block winter migration routes to the south, causing caribou to congregate in lichen-rich habitats in northern Quebec. This effect appeared to be short term [87]. Snow accumulation and hardness alters caribou movements. In Alaska, snow hardness was almost significantly greater (P=0.0731) in burned plots than in unburned plots. Fire may encourage earlier snow melt [96], which could facilitate spring migration (see Timing of Major Life History Events).

Effects of fire on caribou forage: Historically, fire was considered detrimental to caribou due to the destruction of lichen forage caused by fire [52,101]. Now, however, fire is perceived to improve the nutrient cycling and growth of lichens, sedges, shrubs, and forbs [56,96]. Fire reduces lichen availability, but enhances short-term productivity and quality of vascular plants such as sheathed cottonsedge, bog Labrador tea, and mountain cranberry [61,96,97]. The short-term increase in vascular plants enhances summer ranges, but the decrease in lichen availability is detrimental in winter ranges [97]. Late summer regeneration of sheathed cottonsedge following a midsummer tundra fire in Alaska provided food for a caribou herd moving through the burned area in late October [62]. The use of herbaceous vegetation, including sheathed cottonsedge and horsetail (Equisetum spp.), was limited in another study in Alaskan tundra, although availability increased after recent fire [96].

Lichens are typically consumed by fire, including surface fires, so limited food is available to caribou during early successional stages after fire [61,70]. Frequent fire may delay the regeneration of forests that support lichen growth or convert a burned area into tundra, which may not support lichen growth [61]. Fire affected caribou forage availability but not selection in the Alaskan tundra [96]. Changes in arboreal lichen biomass and availability were affected by high- and low-severity fire and clearcutting in Idaho, Washington, and British Columbia. No arboreal lichens were found on sites that experienced high-severity fire or clearcutting during the previous 40 years. Higher arboreal lichen biomass was found at high-severity burn sites aged 41 to 80 years than on clearcut sites of similar age. Arboreal lichen biomass in low-severity fire sites was higher 41 to 80 years after fire than in low-severity sites 1 to 40 years after fire [36].

Lichen regeneration following fire depends on many factors including burn patchiness, intensity, severity, extent of the burn, prefire vegetation, seral stage, and climate [61,115]. Reindeer and cup lichens (Cladonia spp.) are virtually absent until a recovering habitat reaches midsuccession [99,101,116]. Lichen regeneration, including reindeer lichens, cup lichens, felt lichens (Peltigera spp.), and arboreal lichens, takes 30 to120 years or more depending on the species [2,36,78,79,80,99,101,108]. Available forage of shrubs and lichens on average is highest in 51- to 120+-year-old stands and lowest in 1- to 10-year-old stands [99,108]. Stands <60 years old may have standing crops of lichens similar to 120-year-old stands [80]. Fire at the landscape level maintains a diverse mosaic of vegetation and successional stages in forested ecosystems, which overall contributes to the availability of lichens [61].

Fire is necessary in the landscape to maintain lichen forage availability over the long term [97]. Caribou response to fire is influenced by the duration of lichen recovery and availability of alternate feeding sites [61]. In forests >130 years old, terrestrial lichens are replaced by feathermosses, including mountain-fern moss (Hylocomium splendens) and Schreber's moss (Pleurozium schreberi), and vascular plants such as mountain cranberry [24,75,81,97] due to increasing tree density, canopy closure, and litter accumulation [24,75,81]. Fire destroys thick masses of sphagnum mosses (Sphagnum spp.) and feathermosses (Hylocomium spp.) and removes accumulated litter, allowing lichens to regenerate [3,81,93,97,100].

Feltleaf willow is a preferred caribou browse plant and a common associate in Alaska and the Canadian arctic [103,117]. Feltleaf willow is a fire-adapted species that sprouts from the root crown following top-kill by fire [86,115,119]. Feltleaf willow produces abundant, wind-dispersed seed that is important in colonizing burned areas [112,115].

Fire regime: Caribou habitats in taiga generally experience moderate to long fire-return intervals, while tundra habitats rarely burn. Summer fires are rare in northern Canada because of the heterogeneous landscape of wet and dry tundra and rock barrens. Thus, barren ground caribou are typically only affected by fires in their forested winter habitats [100]. The fire season in the Northwest Territories is mid-June to mid-August [41,56]. The fire season in interior Alaska is 1 April to 30 September, with most fires occurring May to July [40,112]. Fires in black spruce/lichen forests in the Northwest Territories and interior Alaska are primarily lightning-caused [41,50,71].

Black spruce-birch forest has the highest fire frequency of any forest type in interior Alaska [114]. Estimated fire-return intervals in the black spruce-birch ecosystem vary from 50 to 200 years [51,115]. Fires occur every 50 to 70 years in black spruce-white spruce/bog birch/reindeer lichen communities in interior Alaska [40]. Heinselman [51] estimates a fire-return interval of 130 years for open black spruce/reindeer lichen forest and 100 years for closed-canopy black spruce forest. Mean fire-return intervals in lowland black spruce forests on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, range from 89 to 195 years [4,72]. Black spruce-birch communities experience high-severity, stand-replacing fires. These communities are highly flammable due to the abundance of ericaceous shrubs, the prevalence of dead, low-hanging branches on the black spruce trees, which are often covered with highly flammable epiphytic lichens, and to the thick moss and lichen mats that cover the forest floor and become highly flammable after periods of low rainfall [70,71,113].

White spruce is also a predominant species in caribou habitat [57,103]. Fire frequency in white spruce forest types is generally 60 to 200 years [84]. Some white spruce forests located in floodplains are >300 years old in Alberta [51].

Jack pine is an important stand component for caribou in eastern Canadian forests [76,80,99,101]. Estimates of fire-return intervals in jack pine forests are generally <50 years [48]. In northern Ontario, major fire events occur every 5 to 30 years in jack pine forests [73]. The mean fire-return interval for jack pine forests in the Athabasca Plains in northern Saskatchewan and northeastern Alberta is 38 years [20]. Upland ridges and ridge complexes that lack natural fire breaks burn most frequently. Jack pine forests that burn more frequently than every 5 to 10 years become pine barrens [31]. Lichen mats develop within 40 years and support fire in jack pine forests [20].

Balsam fir habitats are also utilized in eastern Canada [74,82]. Balsam fir is usually rare or absent for the first 30 to 50 years after fire, but establishes thereafter under the canopy of its seral associates [5,35,42].

Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir forests provide prime habitat for endangered woodland caribou in the Columbia Mountains [6,36,55,102]. Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir forests usually develop in cool, moist locations with an average fire-return interval of ≥150 years [7]. Moist, mid- and high-elevation subalpine fir habitat types experience stand-replacing fires at intervals of ≥90 years [7,105].

The following table provides fire regime information that may be relevant to caribou. Find further fire regime information for the plant communities in which this species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under "Find FIRE REGIMES".

Fire regime information on vegetation communities in which caribou may occur. Fire regime characteristics are taken from the LANDFIRE Rapid Assessment Vegetation Models [65]. These vegetation models were developed by local experts using available literature, local data, and expert opinion as documented in the PDF files linked from the Potential Natural Vegetation Groups listed below.Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics Percent of fires Mean interval
(years) Minimum interval
(years) Maximum interval
(years) Northern Rockies Forested Western larch-lodgepole pine-Douglas-fir Replacement 33% 200 50 250 Mixed 67% 100 20 140 Lower subalpine lodgepole pine Replacement 73% 170 50 200 Mixed 27% 450 40 500 *Fire Severities:
Replacement=Any fire that causes greater than 75% top removal of a vegetation-fuel type, resulting in general replacement of existing vegetation; may or may not cause a lethal effect on the plants.
Mixed=Any fire burning more than 5% of an area that does not qualify as a replacement, surface, or low-severity fire; includes mosaic and other fires that are intermediate in effects [45,64].
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Luensmann, Peggy. 2007. Rangifer tarandus. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/animals/mammal/rata/all.html

Management Considerations

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More info for the terms: association, basal area, cover, density, forest, lichen, lichens, muskeg, natural, tree, woodland

Caribou populations are declining in North America [27,101,111]. Many factors may play a role in the caribou decline. Some possible explanations include poor physical condition of females, loss of habitat due to logging and fire, an increase in energy expenditure due to increased movements, delayed births, overgrazing, high predation, overhunting, and unusually harsh winter conditions leading to high snow accumulations [11,23,27,70]. The loss of winter habitat and lichen forage by wildfires and escaped campfires is commonly cited as a primary cause for the decline of caribou [11,68,70,99]. Gray wolf predation is also a cause of high mortality in some populations [68]. Bergerud [15] speculated that an increase in predation or parasitism may account for population declines after fire rather than a loss of lichen forage following fire. However, evidence that major declines in caribou populations could be attributed to predation or disease has not been conclusive [27]. Overhunting is detrimental to small caribou populations [11,27,70]. Declines along the United States/Canadian border are largely attributed to overhunting and habitat changes caused by logging and fire [11,49]. The primary causes of caribou mortality in the Selkirk Mountains are predation, other natural causes, and hunting [111].

A review by Cumming [29] outlined management guidelines for maintaining caribou populations. Adequate winter habitat includes forest and muskeg fens that provide lichen forage, which is crucial for winter survival. Habitat must provide adequate supplies of other foods and protection against predation. Predator control may be necessary near major calving grounds [29].

Lichen cover can be maintained or improved by silviculture, whereas fire often has a negative effect. Percent cover of reindeer lichens, cup lichens, and arboreal lichens is typically higher in logged plots than in burned plots [36,116]. Reindeer lichen and cup lichen recovery was greater in a lodgepole pine forest in British Columbia 15 years after a winter harvest than in burned stands in the area. Lichen cover following summer harvest was comparable to burned stands in the area. Partial cutting can maintain arboreal lichen loading over the short term. In the same study, results indicated 80% to 90% of lichen loading remained in Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir forest 2 years after tree harvest [25]. In Ontario, reindeer lichens were observed 2 years after logging [116].

Caribou have a negative response to clearcut logging. Woodland caribou in Alberta maintained an average distance of 0.75 mile (1.2 km) from recent cut blocks [104]. In Ontario, clearcuts were avoided for 12 years after harvest within traditional caribou winter habitats [30]. Courtois and others [22] suggested that protecting large mature forest blocks, concentrating tree harvesting activities to large management blocks, and maintaining corridors connecting large forest blocks would benefit caribou. Smith and others [104] also recommended leaving core caribou habitat intact, limiting the number of fragmented stands created by timber harvesting, and creating large cut blocks to mimic the effects of large-scale fires and minimize edge effects that may promote the expansion of other ungulate species. Small-scale timber harvest promotes an increase in moose populations, which in turn leads to an increase in gray wolf populations. Large-scale timber harvest could benefit caribou by keeping moose and gray wolf populations low [53]. In winter, woodland caribou in British Columbia show a preference for Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir forests with low basal area, moderate timber volume, and moderate slope that are >5,000 feet (1,525 m) elevation. Woodland caribou move through lower elevations, however, to reach the high-elevation habitats. Logging could be possible at lower elevations in this habitat, which would reduce conflicts with caribou [107]. For more detailed information on land management recommendations, see Courtois and others [22].

Disturbances in caribou habitats have potentially detrimental effects on caribou populations. Caribou avoid railways, roads, and human settlements. Rail and road systems that bisect caribou range may inhibit seasonal movements [2]. A study in Ontario documented an increase in caribou mortality near logging roads via an increase in predation, poaching, and train and traffic accidents. These increases were related to, but not directly caused by, logging activities [30]. Limiting road access and recreation, such as snowmobile use, would benefit caribou [107]. Unexpectedly, an increase in traffic through Denali National Park in Alaska has not caused any noticeable effects on caribou abundance, distribution, or behavior. Individual caribou may become habituated to traffic while others avoid roadways [18].

The effects of petroleum development on caribou are uncertain. A traditional calving ground near an active Prudhoe Bay oil field shifted approximately 12 miles (20 km) south of the oil field as the herd grew over time. The herd's shift in utilized habitat may have been influenced by petroleum development, but this is uncertain [47]. The use of traditional calving grounds may reduce calf mortality due to reduced predation and higher-quality forage [19]. Shifts away from traditional calving grounds may lead to greater calf mortality and a decline in population size.

Cameron and others [19] advise using caution in when developing oil fields in caribou habitat. After construction of an oil field access road through a caribou calving ground in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, caribou density declined significantly (P=0.05) within 0.6 mile (1 km) of the road. Relative caribou use of areas adjacent to the road also significantly declined (P<0.02), in apparent conjunction with an increase in surface development. Caribou densities increased significantly (P=0.04) 3 to 4 miles (5-6 km) from the road [19], indicating a possible shift in habitat utilization. In another study on Prudhoe Bay oil fields, male caribou were observed within 1.2 miles (2 km) of oil field infrastructure during the postcalving season. However, calves were primarily observed 4 to 5 miles (6-8 km) from oil field infrastructure during the postcalving season, although calves were observed closer to infrastructure in some years [28]. These results suggest that oil field development generally has a negative affect on caribou calves and calving females, but more research is needed to make the association clearer.
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Luensmann, Peggy. 2007. Rangifer tarandus. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/animals/mammal/rata/all.html

Predators

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Known predators of adults and calves in North America include gray wolf, grizzly bear, American black bear (Ursus americanus), mountain lion (Puma concolor), wolverine (Gulo gulo), coyote (Canis latrans), arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus), Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis), golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), and common raven (Corvus corax) [9,11,12,15,58,59,74,83,85,89,103]. Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) may prey on caribou in areas where they cooccur, but no confirmed kills have been observed [16]. Another potential predator is the red fox (Vulpes vulpes fulva) [103].

Gray wolves are the primary predator of adult caribou [76,103]. Fire may lead to an increase in gray wolf populations, especially when other prey species such as moose (Alces alces) increase after fire [15,53].

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Luensmann, Peggy. 2007. Rangifer tarandus. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/animals/mammal/rata/all.html

Preferred Habitat

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More info for the terms: basal area, bog, cover, density, forbs, forest, lichen, lichens, mesic, series, shrubs, tree, tundra, woodland

Caribou outside the Columbia Mountains: Caribou primarily occupy boreal and subboreal forests in North America [24,74,99]. Herds in northern Canada and northern Alaska summer in arctic tundra and winter in boreal forest [99]. Major tree species within caribou habitat include black spruce, white spruce, jack pine, balsam fir, Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, lodgepole pine, tamarack, and white birch [6,24,74,101]. In Saskatchewan and Manitoba, caribou foraged exclusively in and around spruce stands in mid- to late winter [78]. In Manitoba, barren ground caribou use upland semiopen to open black spruce stands most heavily for midwinter foraging. During northward migration in Saskatchewan in mid-February, barren ground caribou feed primarily on uplands in semiopen to dense black spruce and in isolated white birch stands [80]. Mature (≥70 years) balsam fir forests are used extensively by woodland caribou in Quebec [82].

Caribou distributions within these habitats are influenced by site characteristics and associated vegetation. Caribou frequent peatlands, bogs, muskegs, lake shores, and other wetland and riparian areas [37,61,80,97]. A mosaic of habitats, such as old-growth forest uplands and mature lowland forest adjacent to wetland and riparian areas, are important for feeding and other activities during mid- and late winter in Manitoba and Saskatchewan [80,97]. Habitat heterogeneity is primarily caused by fire [80]. Caribou spend most of their time on level or gently sloping land [81,103]. High-elevation hilltops and ridges are frequently used by caribou throughout the year [81,82,103]. High-elevation habitats include grasslands [103], alpine habitats characterized by ericaceous shrubs, lichens, mosses, and graminoids, and open subalpine white spruce-balsam fir forest. Woodland caribou in Quebec favored barren habitats with a large component of bare ground in alpine and subalpine zones >2,300 feet (700 m) [82].

Favored calving grounds for herds near the ocean include gently rising plains and hills >1,200 feet (370 m) in elevation [58]. A calving area in Alaska was characterized by subarctic, mesic, and wet-sedge meadows dominated by Bering Sea sedge (Carex nesophila), purple marshlocks (Potentilla palustris), and field horsetail (Equisetum arvense). Calving habitat in Greenland was characterized by warm, dry, south-facing slopes populated by Bellardi bog sedge (Kobresia myosuroides), weak arctic sedge (C. supina), grayleaf willow, and dwarf birch (B. nana) [88]. Caribou in Newfoundland calved in mature forest and then moved to barrens 2 to 4 days after calving. Extensive scrub habitats interspersed with bogs and barrens were used for calving as well in Newfoundland [74]. Uncharacteristically, females from a nonmigratory herd in Saskatchewan did not use a specific calving location from year to year, but the females did utilize the same general calving area [90]. A herd in Alaska was displaced from its traditional calving area and used a recent burn for calving instead. The traditional area was completely snow covered during the calving period, while the burned area was snow free. Nearby treeless, snow-free unburned areas were generally avoided [34].

Snow depth and hardness may influence caribou movements and foraging habits more than stand age [78,101]. To find food in winter, caribou favor habitats with reduced snow cover, including western and southern aspects and windy mountaintops [12,106]. Caribou selectively travel and feed in areas with shallow snow, which may explain why stands at least 40 years old are utilized more than younger stands [78]. Caribou dig feeding craters at sites with soft, shallow snow in both burned and unburned sites in Alaska [96]. In early winter, barren ground caribou movements are not yet restricted by snow depth or hardness [80]. Mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) attacks can affect caribou movements by killing trees and increasing windthrow. Snow depths may increase in areas with reduced canopy cover due to windthrow caused by mountain pine beetle kills. As a result, caribou may abandon once-preferred habitats and utilize areas where predation risks may be higher [21]. Increases in snowfall over several seasons can lead to population declines within caribou herds [1].

Home range: Caribou home range size is highly variable because some herds are migratory while others are not [69,80,90,103]. Average home range sizes of male and female caribou in Newfoundland were 84.0 km² and 89.8 km², respectively [74]. The range of a woodland caribou herd in Labrador was estimated at 25,000 km² [17]. The general home range of a woodland caribou herd in Ontario was roughly 160,000 km² [39]. The primary home range of an Alaskan herd covered roughly 45,000 km² [103].

Endangered woodland caribou in the Columbia Mountains: Caribou in the Columbia Mountains primarily inhabit Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir and western red cedar-western hemlock forests >4,000 feet (1,200 m) in elevation [111]. The following table describes the characteristics of habitats utilized by woodland caribou in the Columbia Mountain ecosystem in northern Idaho, northeastern Washington, and southeastern British Columbia.

Characteristics of woodland caribou habitat in the Columbia Mountains Season Major habitat characteristics Tree size Basal area Canopy cover Lichen density Understory cover Road density Other characteristics Early winter mature to old-growth western redcedar-western hemlock and Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir forests >20 cm DBH ≥50 m²/ha >50% high ...* ... 1,346-1,677 m elevation; 16%-30% slopes; southern aspects, highly productive stands; average windthrown tree density 7.4/ha [6,55,91,102,107,111] Late winter old-growth Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir and western hemlock forests; ridgetops or upper slopes; also subalpine zones ... 2.3-17.2 m²/ha 26%-50% high ... ... >1,526 m elevation; moderate slopes; northern aspects; low tree density; stem densities 741 to 1235/ha [6,102,107] Spring mature western redcedar-western hemlock-Engelmann spruce forests; forest openings and cutovers adjacent to mature stands; closed canopy forests of various ages <10 cm, 21-25 cm DBH <2.3 m²/ha, <45.9 m²/ha variable low ... ... low to midelevation; highly productive stands [6,38,102,111] Calving mature to old-growth western redcedar-western hemlock and Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir forests; old noncommercial forests; calving females usually secluded ... ≤34.4 m²/ha low high ... lower than other times of the year 1,346 m elevation; low tree density; often snow covered [55,102,111] Summer western redcedar-western hemlock and Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir forests; partial cuts, pole stands, and old-growth; high meadows adjacent to subalpine forest ... 17.3-34.4 m²/ha variable high >60% ... average elevation 1,400-1,700 m; northern and eastern aspects, relatively flat terrain at a fine scale; highly productive stands [6,38,102] Fall mature to old-growth western hemlock; high meadows adjacent to subalpine forest >20 cm DBH >45.9 m²/ha variable high high ... shift to lower elevations following frost [38,102] Rut ... >25 cm DBH >45.9 m²/ha >70% ... ... 1.3 km/km² high concentration of snags (>247/ha) [102] *No data.

Johnson and others [55] identify preferred woodland caribou habitats in the Selkirk Mountains of Idaho, Washington, and British Columbia, and describe potential management conflicts due to human activity and development in the woodland caribou habitats. Prime habitat in the region includes lightly stocked stands with seral and mature Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir and western redcedar-western hemlock stands with <40% crown cover, especially in areas where lakes, bogs, and fens are present. These habitat types provide lichen forage during winter months as well as shrubs and forbs during other times of the year. Within these types, lightly stocked stands on steep southern aspects are vulnerable to fire. Any logging or fire activity within these stands would likely be detrimental to the caribou population [55].

Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir forest >5,000 feet (1,524 m) with >40% crown cover is another highly preferred habitat in the Selkirk Mountains. Western redcedar-western hemlock stands over 4,500 feet (1,346 m) within the spruce-fir type are used in early winter for feeding, movement corridors, and calving sites. These stands provide cover in late fall, while fallen trees within this habitat provide lichen forage. According to Johnson and others [55], irregularly shaped clearcuts <40 acres (16 ha) in size and <33% of the original forest size may be removed in a single drainage without serious harm to caribou populations in this habitat [55].

In the Selkirk Mountains, caribou frequently use sites adjacent to lakes, bogs, and fens for foraging in late summer and fall. Disturbances such as logging, camping, and road traffic near these water sources may be detrimental to caribou using those sites. Limiting the number of roads and utility corridors through preferred habitats would be highly beneficial to caribou in the Selkirk Mountains [55].

Woodland caribou in British Columbia frequent alpine-rock, lodgepole pine/reindeer lichen-cup lichen, and midelevation mixed spruce-fir-pine (Picea-Abies-Pinus spp.) habitats [54]. Western hemlock habitats are most important for woodland caribou in Idaho and British Columbia during autumn and early winter. However, habitats with western hemlock are largely avoided at other times of the year. Open canopy (10%-25%) is also favored during all seasons in stands without a western hemlock component [102]. Periodically in winter, caribou climb to the high ridges they more typically use in summer. These vertical movements are likely influenced by snow accumulation. Deep snow accumulation at high elevations forces caribou down to mature lowland forests. Caribou return to upper elevations if the snow pack hardens sufficiently. When snow softens in spring, caribou are again forced to lower-elevation forests. They move from low-elevation forests into snow-free alpine habitats in May and June and remain for most of the summer. Woodland caribou in this area inhabit dense, lowland forests that are roughly 4,000 feet (1,200 m) below their summer range during part of each winter. In lowland areas, woodland caribou favor flat, poorly drained areas interspersed with open bogs, meadows and ponds, and mature forests near the open ice of lakes [38].

Caribou in the Selkirk Mountains return to the same early winter habitats year after year [111]. Early winter habitat in the Selkirk Mountains is characterized by closed-canopy Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir and western hemlock-western redcedar on moderate slopes, with high densities of windthrow and arboreal lichens, at 4,000 to 6,200 feet (1,200-1,900 m) elevation [102,111]. Early winter is considered the most critical time for woodland caribou in the Selkirk Mountains because availability of suitable habitat is limited, rapid snow accumulation covers vascular plants used for forage and makes movement difficult, and arboreal lichen availability is low [91,111]. The accumulated snow hardens in late winter, and caribou are able to walk on top of the snow and more easily reach arboreal lichens in the forest canopy [111].

Caribou declined after a series of fires that greatly altered the landscape in British Columbia. Fire reduced 60% to70% of this caribou habitat. However, the decline in the caribou population was not noticed for several years following the fires. Caribou avoided burned areas that had been utilized before the fires [38].

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Luensmann, Peggy. 2007. Rangifer tarandus. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/animals/mammal/rata/all.html

Synonyms

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Cervus tarandus Gmelin [44]

Rangifer tarandus montanus Thompson-Seton [118]

Rangifer tarandus granti J. A. Allen

Rangifer tarandus eogroenlandicus Degerbol [44]
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Luensmann, Peggy. 2007. Rangifer tarandus. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/animals/mammal/rata/all.html

Taxonomy

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More info for the term: woodland

The scientific name of caribou is Rangifer tarandus L. It is a member of
the deer family, Cervidae [8,118]. Subspecies in North America include [44,118]:

Rangifer tarandus caribou (Gmelin)   woodland caribou

Rangifer tarandus dawsoni Thompson-Seton  Dawson caribou (presumed extinct)

Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus (L.)  barren ground caribou

Rangifer tarandus pearyi J. A. Allen  Peary caribou

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Luensmann, Peggy. 2007. Rangifer tarandus. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/animals/mammal/rata/all.html

Timing of Major Life History Events

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More info for the terms: natural, parturition, polygamous, tundra, woodland

Originally, an estimated 3 to 5 million caribou roamed North America. The estimated caribou population in North America as of 1980 had declined to 935,000 [12]. The size of individual herds can fluctuate widely over time [12,103,106]. Thus, the population fluctuations of a single herd may not reflect the overall dynamics of the species.

Caribou migrate between summer and winter habitats. Spring migration begins as early as mid-February and is typically completed by June [58,69,80]. Early spring thaws allow caribou to migrate to calving grounds early, while late-melting snow packs can delay migrations for a full month [103]. All adult males as well as females that have not successfully bred begin the spring migration in June, often when pregnant females and their yearlings have already reached the calving grounds [69]. A sudden decrease in caribou movements occurs during calving [39]. Winter migrations commence by late September or October. Breeding in migratory herds occurs early into the winter migration [103]. Caribou often follow the same migration routes year after year [58]. For herds summering in northern tundra, forested wintering grounds are up to 800 miles (1,300 km) away. Herds in mountainous areas may move from alpine tundra in summer to forests at lower elevations in winter [10] instead of undertaking long-distance migrations.

Other seasonal movements are common as well. Midsummer migrations were observed in Northwest Territories herds beginning around mid-August and possibly ending sometime in September [58]. Movements during summer are attributed to harassment by black flies (Simuliidae), bot flies (Oestridae), and mosquitoes (Culicidae) [103]. Caribou move to cool shady forests, windy hilltops, and snow and ice fields to reduce insect attacks. Caribou continue moving and running if they cannot escape insects [12]. Some herds migrate to new areas throughout winter as well [58,80]. In Manitoba, winter movements were most consistent during the coldest periods [80].

Caribou show strong site fidelity to calving areas [39,103]. Summering ground use is somewhat variable, but the same general areas are often used repeatedly [103]. The locations of wintering sites are highly variable, although some areas are used year after year [29,39,103].

Caribou reach sexual maturity at 16 to 17 months of age [69,89], but yearlings rarely mate [12,103]. Females begin mating at 28 to 41 months of age [12,15,103]. Most males do not breed successfully until they are 4 to 5 years old [69].

The breeding season ranges from late August to late October or at the beginning of the winter migration [12,103]. Males are polygamous and travel with small bands of females and their calves during the rut [10,69]. Gestation lasts 225 to 235 days [10,12,103]. Parturition takes place in May and June in most herds [1,10,11,12,69,88,90], with a maximum range between late April and early July [10,58]. Females from northern herds typically calve later than those to the south [10]. Females give birth to 1 calf [10,12,15]. Births are highly synchronized, with up to 90% of calves in a herd being born during a 5- to 15-day period [1,12,88]. Post and others [88] suggested that regardless of predation pressure, calving synchrony and timing are largely influenced by the emergence of edible plants.

Calves are highly vulnerable to predation, which is the most common cause of calf mortality [12,15]. Calf mortality is typically 14% to 77% during the first year [12,67,74,89]. In areas with high densities of gray wolves (Canis lupus) or grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis), calf mortality can exceed 90% [12]. Weather conditions also influence calf production and survival [15]. Winter calf survival in a Peary caribou herd in the Northwest Territories was highest in years with deep, hard snow. However, in the same study, mild winters and less snowfall led to an increase in calf production the following year [67].

Annual adult mortality is also influenced by predator densities [12]. Natural adult mortality generally ranges 4% to 16% annually [12,74,76,89]. Adults in a small population of woodland caribou in British Columbia suffered unusually high mortality, with an average annual rate of 24% [59]. The maximum lifespan of caribou is around 12 to 16 years [32,69,103].

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Luensmann, Peggy. 2007. Rangifer tarandus. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/animals/mammal/rata/all.html

U.S. Federal Legal Status

provided by Fire Effects Information System Animals
Rangifer tarandus caribou: Endangered
Rangifer tarandus pearyi: Under Review
Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus: Under Review [110]
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Luensmann, Peggy. 2007. Rangifer tarandus. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/animals/mammal/rata/all.html

Use of Fire in Population Management

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More info for the terms: bryophytes, climax, cover, fire exclusion, fire management, lichen, lichens, shrub

At this time, the effects of fire management on caribou habitat are not completely understood. Since lichen cover declines for decades following fire, extensive prescribed fire is not recommended for caribou habitat improvement. However, given that mosses and other bryophytes replace lichens in climax ecosystems, complete fire exclusion would be a poor management policy over the long term [95]. Bergerud [13] suggested that fire would create usable habitat by converting closed-canopy forests to lichen woodlands and shrub barrens. However, the creation of permanent shrub barrens would lead to a reduction in lichen forage [13]. Caribou range is typically very extensive, so most fire activity is too small in scale to have any lasting effect on caribou populations [62].
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Luensmann, Peggy. 2007. Rangifer tarandus. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/animals/mammal/rata/all.html

Reindeer

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The reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), also known as caribou in North America,[3] is a species of deer with circumpolar distribution, native to Arctic, subarctic, tundra, boreal, and mountainous regions of northern Europe, Siberia, and North America.[2] This includes both sedentary and migratory populations. Rangifer herd size varies greatly in different geographic regions.

Rangifer varies in size and colour from the smallest, the Svalbard reindeer, to the largest, the boreal woodland caribou. The North American range of caribou extends from Alaska through the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut into the boreal forest and south through the Canadian Rockies.[4] The barren-ground caribou, Porcupine caribou, and Peary caribou live in the tundra, while the shy boreal woodland caribou prefer the boreal forest. The Porcupine caribou and the barren-ground caribou form large herds and undertake lengthy seasonal migrations from birthing grounds to summer and winter feeding grounds in the tundra and taiga. The migrations of Porcupine caribou herds are among the longest of any mammal.[4] Barren-ground caribou are also found in Kitaa in Greenland, but the larger herds are in Alaska, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut.[5]

The Taimyr herd of migrating Siberian tundra reindeer (R. t. sibiricus) in Russia is the largest wild reindeer herd in the world,[6][7] varying between 400,000 and 1,000,000. What was once the second largest herd is the migratory boreal woodland caribou (R. t. caribou) George River herd in Canada, with former variations between 28,000 and 385,000. As of January 2018, there are fewer than 9,000 animals estimated to be left in the George River herd, as reported by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.[8] The New York Times reported in April 2018 of the disappearance of the only herd of southern mountain caribou in the contiguous United States with an expert calling it "functionally extinct" after the herd's size dwindled to a mere three animals.[9] After the last member, a female, was translocated to a wildlife rehab center in Canada, the caribou is considered extirpated from the Lower 48.

Some subspecies are rare and at least two have already become extinct: the Queen Charlotte Islands caribou of Canada and the Arctic reindeer from East Greenland.[10][11][12] Historically, the range of the sedentary boreal woodland caribou covered more than half of Canada[13] and into the northern states of the contiguous U.S. Woodland caribou have disappeared from most of their original southern range and were designated as threatened in 2002 by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).[14] Environment Canada reported in 2011 that there were approximately 34,000 boreal woodland caribou in 51 ranges remaining in Canada (Environment Canada, 2011b).[15] Siberian tundra reindeer herds are in decline, and Rangifer tarandus is considered to be vulnerable by the IUCN.

Arctic peoples have depended on caribou for food, clothing, and shelter, such as the Caribou Inuit, the inland-dwelling Inuit of the Kivalliq Region in northern Canada, the Caribou Clan in the Yukon, the Inupiat, the Inuvialuit, the Hän, the Northern Tutchone, and the Gwich'in (who followed the Porcupine caribou for millennia). Hunting wild reindeer and herding of semi-domesticated reindeer are important to several Arctic and sub-Arctic peoples such as the Duhalar for meat, hides, antlers, milk, and transportation.[16] The Sami people (Sápmi) have also depended on reindeer herding and fishing for centuries.[17]:IV[18]:16[17]:IV In Sápmi, reindeer are used to pull a pulk,[19] a Nordic sled.

Male and female reindeer can grow antlers annually, although the proportion of females that grow antlers varies greatly between population and season.[20] Antlers are typically larger on males. In traditional Christmas legend, Santa Claus's reindeer pull a sleigh through the night sky to help Santa Claus deliver gifts to good children on Christmas Eve.

Contents

Naming

Carl Linnaeus chose the name Rangifer for the reindeer genus, which Albertus Magnus used in his De animalibus, fol. Liber 22, Cap. 268: "Dicitur Rangyfer quasi ramifer". This word may go back to the Saami word raingo.[21] Linnaeus chose the word tarandus as the specific epithet, making reference to Ulisse Aldrovandi's Quadrupedum omnium bisulcorum historia fol. 859–863, Cap. 30: De Tarando (1621). However, Aldrovandi and Konrad Gesner[22] thought that rangifer and tarandus were two separate animals.[23] In any case, the tarandos name goes back to Aristotle and Theophrastus.

The use of the terms reindeer and caribou for essentially the same animal can cause confusion, but the International Union for Conservation of Nature clearly delineates the issue: "The world's Caribou and Reindeer are classified as a single species Rangifer tarandus. Reindeer is the European name for the species while in North America, the species is known as Caribou."[2] The word rein is of Norse origin. The word deer was originally broader in meaning but became more specific over time. In Middle English, der meant a wild animal of any kind, in contrast to cattle.[24] The word caribou comes through French, from the Mi'kmaq qalipu, meaning "snow shoveler" and referring to its habit of pawing through the snow for food.[25]

Because of its importance to many cultures, Rangifer tarandus and some of its subspecies have names in many languages. Inuktitut is spoken in the eastern Arctic, and the caribou is known by the name tuktu.[26][27][28] The Gwich’in people have over 24 distinct caribou-related words.[29]

Names for reindeer in languages spoken throughout their (former) native range:

Taxonomy and evolution

The species' taxonomic name, Rangifer tarandus, was defined by Carl Linnaeus in 1758. The woodland caribou subspecies' taxonomic name Rangifer tarandus caribou was defined by Gmelin in 1788.

Based on Banfield's often-cited A Revision of the Reindeer and Caribou, Genus Rangifer (1961),[34] R. t. caboti (the Labrador caribou), R. t. osborni (Osborn's caribou—from British Columbia) and R. t. terraenovae (the Newfoundland caribou) were considered invalid and included in R. t. caribou.

Some recent authorities have considered them all valid, even suggesting that they are quite distinct. In his chapter in the book entitled Mammal Species of the World, English zoologist Peter Grubb agrees with Valerius Geist, specialist on large North American mammals, that this range actually includes several subspecies.[35][36][37][Notes 1]

Geist (2007) argued that the "true woodland caribou, the uniformly dark, small-maned type with the frontally emphasised, flat-beamed antlers", which is "scattered thinly along the southern rim of North American caribou distribution" has been incorrectly classified. He affirms that the "true woodland caribou is very rare, in very great difficulties and requires the most urgent of attention."[35]

In 2005, an analysis of mtDNA found differences between the caribou from Newfoundland, Labrador, southwestern Canada, and southeastern Canada, but maintained all in R. t. caribou.[38]

Mallory and Hillis argued that "Although the taxonomic designations reflect evolutionary events, they do not appear to reflect current ecological conditions. In numerous instances, populations of the same subspecies have evolved different demographic and behavioural adaptations, while populations from separate subspecies have evolved similar demographic and behavioural patterns... "[U]nderstanding ecotype in relation to existing ecological constraints and releases may be more important than the taxonomic relationships between populations."[39]

Current classifications of Rangifer tarandus, either with prevailing taxonomy on subspecies, designations based on ecotypes, or natural population groupings, fail to capture "the variability of caribou across their range in Canada" needed for effective species conservation and management.[40] "Across the range of a species, individuals may display considerable morphological, genetic, and behavioural variability reflective of both plasticity and adaptation to local environments."[41] COSEWIC developed Designated Unit (DU) attribution to add to classifications already in use.[40]

Subspecies

The canonical Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.) recognises 14 subspecies, two of which are extinct.[5]

The table above includes R. tarandus caboti (the Labrador caribou), R. tarandus osborni (Osborn's caribou – from British Columbia) and R. tarandus terraenovae (the Newfoundland caribou). Based on a review in 1961,[34] these were considered invalid and included in R. tarandus caribou, but some recent authorities have considered them all valid, even suggesting that they are quite distinct.[35][36] An analysis of mtDNA in 2005 found differences between the caribou from Newfoundland, Labrador, southwestern Canada and southeastern Canada, but maintained all in R. tarandus caribou.[38]

There are seven subspecies of reindeer in Eurasia, of which only two are found in Fennoscandia: the mountain reindeer (R. t. tarandus) in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia and the Finnish forest reindeer (R. t. fennicus) in Finland and Russia.[19]

Two subspecies are found only in North America: the Porcupine caribou (R. t. granti) and the Peary caribou (R. t. pearyi). The barren-ground caribou (R. t. groenlandicus) is found in western Greenland, but the larger herds are in Alaska, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.[5]

According to Grubb, based on Banfield[34] and considerably modified by Geist,[45] these subspecies and divisions are considered valid:[5] the caribou or woodland caribou division, which includes R. t. buskensis, R. t. caribou, R. t. dawsoni, R. t. fennicus, R. t. phylarchus and R. t. valentinae (R. t. osborni is a transitional subspecies between the caribou and tarandus divisions), the tarandus or tundra reindeer division, which includes R. t. caboti, R. t. groenlandicus, R. t. pearsoni, R. t. sibiricus and R. t. terraenovae and the platyrhynchus or dwarf reindeer division, which includes R. t. pearyi and R. t. platyrhynchus.

Some of the Rangifer tarandus subspecies may be further divided by ecotype depending on several behavioural factors – predominant habitat use (northern, tundra, mountain, forest, boreal forest, forest-dwelling, woodland, woodland (boreal), woodland (migratory) or woodland (mountain), spacing (dispersed or aggregated) and migration patterns (sedentary or migratory).[46][47][48]

The "glacial-interglacial cycles of the upper Pleistocene had a major influence on the evolution" of Rangifer tarandus and other Arctic and sub-Arctic species. Isolation of Rangifer tarandus in refugia during the last glacial – the Wisconsin in North America and the Weichselian in Eurasia-shaped "intraspecific genetic variability" particularly between the North American and Eurasian parts of the Arctic.[3]

In 1986 Kurtén reported that the oldest reindeer fossil was an "antler of tundra reindeer type from the sands of Süssenborn" in the Pleistocene (Günz) period (680,000 to 620,000 BP).[1] By the 4-Würm period (110,000–70,000 to 12,000–10,000 BP) its European range was very extensive. Reindeer occurred in

... Spain, Italy, and southern Russia. Reindeer [was] particularly abundant in the Magdalenian deposits from the late part of the 4-Wurm just before the end of the Ice Age: at that time and at the early Mesolithic it was the game animal for many tribes. The supply began to get low during the Mesolithic, when reindeer retired to the north.

— Kurtén 1968:170

"In spite of the great variation, all the Pleistocene and living reindeer belong to the same species."[1]

Humans started hunting reindeer in the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods and humans are today the main predator in many areas. Norway and Greenland have unbroken traditions of hunting wild reindeer from the last glacial period until the present day. In the non-forested mountains of central Norway, such as Jotunheimen, it is still possible to find remains of stone-built trapping pits, guiding fences and bow rests, built especially for hunting reindeer. These can, with some certainty, be dated to the Migration Period, although it is not unlikely that they have been in use since the Stone Age.

Physical characteristics

 src=
Skull of a reindeer

Antlers

 src=
Reindeer losing the velvet layer under which a new antler is growing, an annual process

In most populations both sexes grow antlers; the reindeer is the only cervid species in which females grow them as well as males.[49] Androgens play an essential role in the antler formation of cervids. The antlerogenic genes in reindeer have more sensitivity to androgens in comparison with other cervids.[50][51]

There is considerable variation between subspecies in the size of the antlers (e.g. they are rather small and spindly in the northernmost subspecies),[52] but on average the bull reindeer's antlers are the second largest of any extant deer, after the moose. In the largest subspecies, the antlers of large males can range up to 100 cm (39 in) in width and 135 cm (53 in) in beam length. They have the largest antlers relative to body size among living deer species.[49] Antler size measured in number of points reflects the nutritional status of the reindeer and climate variation of its environment.[53][54] The number of points on male reindeer increases from birth to five years of age and remains relatively constant from then on.[55] "In male caribou, antler mass (but not the number of tines) varies in concert with body mass."[56][57] While antlers of bull woodland caribou are typically smaller than barren-ground caribou, they can be over one metre (3') across. They are flattened, compact and relatively dense.[15] Geist describes them as frontally emphasised, flat-beamed antlers.[58] Woodland caribou antlers are thicker and broader than those of the barren-ground caribou and their legs and heads are longer.[15] Quebec-Labrador bull caribou antlers can be significantly larger and wider than other woodland caribou. Central barren-ground bull caribou are perhaps the most diverse in configuration and can grow to be very high and wide. Mountain caribou are typically the most massive with the largest circumference measurements.

The antlers' main beams begin at the brow "extending posterior over the shoulders and bowing so that the tips point forward. The prominent, palmate brow tines extend forward, over the face."[59] The antlers typically have two separate groups of points, lower and upper.

Antlers begin to grow on male reindeer in March or April and on female reindeer in May or June. This process is called antlerogenesis. Antlers grow very quickly every year on the males. As the antlers grow, they are covered in thick velvet, filled with blood vessels and spongy in texture. The antler velvet of the barren-ground caribou and boreal woodland caribou is dark chocolate brown.[60] The velvet that covers growing antlers is a highly vascularised skin. This velvet is dark brown on woodland or barren-ground caribou and slate-grey on Peary caribou and the Dolphin-Union caribou herd.[59][61][62] Velvet lumps in March can develop into a rack measuring more than a metre in length (3 ft) by August.[63]:88

When the antler growth is fully grown and hardened, the velvet is shed or rubbed off. To the Inuit, for whom the caribou is a "culturally important keystone species", the months are named after landmarks in the caribou life cycle. For example, amiraijaut in the Igloolik region is "when velvet falls off caribou antlers."[64]

Male reindeer use their antlers to compete with other males during the mating season. In describing woodland caribou, SARA wrote, "During the rut, males engage in frequent and furious sparring battles with their antlers. Large males with large antlers do most of the mating."[65] Reindeer continue to migrate until the bull reindeer have spent the back fat.[64][66][67]

In late autumn or early winter after the rut, male reindeer lose their antlers, growing a new pair the next summer with a larger rack than the previous year. Female reindeer keep their antlers until they calve. In the Scandinavian and Arctic Circle populations, old males' antlers fall off in late December, young males' fall off in the early spring and females' fall off in the summer.

When bull reindeer shed their antlers in early to midwinter, the antlered female reindeer acquire the highest ranks in the feeding hierarchy, gaining access to the best forage areas. These cows are healthier than those without antlers.[68] Calves whose mothers do not have antlers are more prone to disease and have a significantly higher mortality.[68] Females in good nutritional condition, for example, during a mild winter with good winter range quality, may grow new antlers earlier as antler growth requires high intake.[68]

According to a respected Igloolik elder, Noah Piugaattuk, who was one of the last outpost camp leaders,[69] caribou (tuktu) antlers[64]

...get detached every year… Young males lose the velvet from the antlers much more quickly than female caribou even though they are not fully mature. They start to work with their antlers just as soon as the velvet starts to fall off. The young males engage in fights with their antlers towards autumn…soon after the velvet had fallen off they will be red, as they start to get bleached their colour changes… When the velvet starts to fall off the antler is red because the antler is made from blood. The antler is the blood that has hardened, in fact, the core of the antler is still bloody when the velvet starts to fall off, at least close to the base.

— Elder Noah Piugaattuk of Igloolik cited in "Tuktu — Caribou" (2002) "Canada's Polar Life

According to the Igloolik Oral History Project (IOHP), "Caribou antlers provided the Inuit with a myriad of implements, from snow knives and shovels to drying racks and seal-hunting tools. A complex set of terms describes each part of the antler and relates it to its various uses".[64] Currently, the larger racks of antlers are used by Inuit as materials for carving. Iqaluit-based Jackoposie Oopakak's 1989 carving, entitled Nunali, which means "place where people live", and which is part of the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Canada, includes a massive set of caribou antlers on which he has intricately carved the miniaturised world of the Inuit where "Arctic birds, caribou, polar bears, seals, and whales are interspersed with human activities of fishing, hunting, cleaning skins, stretching boots, and travelling by dog sled and kayak...from the base of the antlers to the tip of each branch".[70]

Pelt

The colour of the fur varies considerably, both between individuals and depending on season and subspecies. Northern populations, which usually are relatively small, are whiter, while southern populations, which typically are relatively large, are darker. This can be seen well in North America, where the northernmost subspecies, the Peary caribou, is the whitest and smallest subspecies of the continent, while the southernmost subspecies, the boreal woodland caribou, is the darkest and largest.[52]

The coat has two layers of fur: a dense woolly undercoat and longer-haired overcoat consisting of hollow, air-filled hairs.[71][Notes 4] Fur is the primary insulation factor that allows reindeer to regulate their core body temperature in relation to their environment, the thermogradient, even if the temperature rises to 100 °F (38 °C).[72] In 1913 Dugmore noted how the woodland caribou swim so high out of the water, unlike any other mammal, because their hollow, "air-filled, quill-like hair" acts as a supporting "life jacket."[73]

A darker belly colour may be caused by two mutations of MC1R. They appear to be more common in domestic herds.[74]

Heat exchange

Blood moving into the legs is cooled by blood returning to the body in a countercurrent heat exchange (CCHE), a highly efficient means of minimising heat loss through the skin's surface. In the CCHE mechanism, in cold weather, blood vessels are closely knotted and intertwined with arteries to the skin and appendages that carry warm blood with veins returning to the body that carry cold blood causing the warm arterial blood to exchange heat with the cold venous blood. In this way, their legs for example are kept cool, maintaining the core body temperature nearly 30 °C (54 °F) higher with less heat lost to the environment. Heat is thus recycled instead of being dissipated. The "heart does not have to pump blood as rapidly in order to maintain a constant body core temperature and thus, metabolic rate." CCHE is present in animals like reindeer, fox and moose living in extreme conditions of cold or hot weather as a mechanism for retaining the heat in (or out of) the body. These are countercurrent exchange systems with the same fluid, usually blood, in a circuit, used for both directions of flow.[75]

Reindeer have specialised counter-current vascular heat exchange in their nasal passages. Temperature gradient along the nasal mucosa is under physiological control. Incoming cold air is warmed by body heat before entering the lungs and water is condensed from the expired air and captured before the reindeer's breath is exhaled, then used to moisten dry incoming air and possibly be absorbed into the blood through the mucous membranes.[76] Like moose, caribou have specialised noses featuring nasal turbinate bones that dramatically increase the surface area within the nostrils.

Hooves

The reindeer has large feet with crescent-shaped, cloven hooves for walking in snow or swamps. According to the Species at Risk Public Registry (SARA), woodland[65]

"Caribou have large feet with four toes. In addition to two small ones, called "dew claws," they have two large, crescent-shaped toes that support most of their weight and serve as shovels when digging for food under snow. These large concave hooves offer stable support on wet, soggy ground and on crusty snow. The pads of the hoof change from a thick, fleshy shape in the summer to become hard and thin in the winter months, reducing the animal’s exposure to the cold ground. Additional winter protection comes from the long hair between the "toes"; it covers the pads so the caribou walks only on the horny rim of the hooves."

— SARA 2014

Reindeer hooves adapt to the season: in the summer, when the tundra is soft and wet, the footpads become sponge-like and provide extra traction. In the winter, the pads shrink and tighten, exposing the rim of the hoof, which cuts into the ice and crusted snow to keep it from slipping. This also enables them to dig down (an activity known as "cratering") through the snow to their favourite food, a lichen known as reindeer lichen (Cladonia rangiferina).[77][78]

Size

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Skull

The females usually measure 162–205 cm (64–81 in) in length and weigh 80–120 kg (180–260 lb).[79] The males (or "bulls" as they are often called) are typically larger (to an extent which varies between the different subspecies), measuring 180–214 cm (71–84 in) in length and usually weighing 159–182 kg (351–401 lb).[79] Exceptionally large males have weighed as much as 318 kg (701 lb).[79] Weight varies drastically between seasons, with males losing as much as 40% of their pre-rut weight.[80]

Shoulder height is usually 85 to 150 cm (33 to 59 in), and the tail is 14 to 20 cm (5.5 to 7.9 in) long.

The reindeer from Svalbard are the smallest. They are also relatively short-legged and may have a shoulder height of as little as 80 cm (31 in),[81] thereby following Allen's rule.

Clicking sound

The knees of many subspecies of reindeer are adapted to produce a clicking sound as they walk.[82] The sounds originate in the tendons of the knees and may be audible from several hundred metres away. The frequency of the knee-clicks is one of a range of signals that establish relative positions on a dominance scale among reindeer. "Specifically, loud knee-clicking is discovered to be an honest signal of body size, providing an exceptional example of the potential for non-vocal acoustic communication in mammals."[82] The clicking sound made by reindeer as they walk is caused by small tendons slipping over bone protuberances (sesamoid bones) in their feet.[83][84] The sound is made when a reindeer is walking or running, occurring when the full weight of the foot is on the ground or just after it is relieved of the weight.[73]

Eyes

A study by researchers from University College London in 2011 revealed that reindeer can see light with wavelengths as short as 320 nm (i.e. in the ultraviolet range), considerably below the human threshold of 400 nm. It is thought that this ability helps them to survive in the Arctic, because many objects that blend into the landscape in light visible to humans, such as urine and fur, produce sharp contrasts in ultraviolet.[85] The tapetum lucidum of Arctic reindeer eyes changes in colour from gold in summer to blue in winter to improve their vision during times of continuous darkness, and perhaps enable them to better spot predators.[86]

Biology and behaviours

Seasonal body composition

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Swedish reindeer

Reindeer have developed adaptations for optimal metabolic efficiency during warm months as well as for during cold months.[87] The body composition of reindeer varies highly with the seasons. Of particular interest is the body composition and diet of breeding and non-breeding females between seasons. Breeding females have more body mass than non-breeding females between the months of March and September with a difference of around 10 kg (20lb) more than non-breeding females. From November to December, non-breeding females have more body mass than breeding females, as non-breeding females are able to focus their energies towards storage during colder months rather than lactation and reproduction. Body masses of both breeding and non-breeding females peaks in September. During the months of March through April, breeding females have more fat mass than the non-breeding females with a difference of almost 3 kg (7lb). After this however, non-breeding females on average have a higher fat mass than the breeding females.[88]

The environmental variations play a large part in reindeer nutrition, as winter nutrition is crucial to adult and neonatal survival rates.[89] Lichens are a staple during the winter months as they are a readily available food source, which reduces the reliance on stored body reserves.[88] Lichens are a crucial part of the reindeer diet; however, they are less prevalent in the diet of pregnant reindeer compared to non-pregnant individuals. The amount of lichen in a diet is found more in non-pregnant adult diets than pregnant individuals due to the lack of nutritional value. Although lichens are high in carbohydrates, they are lacking in essential proteins that vascular plants provide. The amount of lichen in a diet decreases in latitude, which results in nutritional stress being higher in areas with low lichen abundance.[90]

Reproduction and life cycle

Reindeer mate in late September to early November and the gestation period is about 228–234 days.[91] During the mating season, males battle for access to females. Two males will lock each other's antlers together and try to push each other away. The most dominant males can collect as many as 15–20 females to mate with. A male will stop eating during this time and lose much of his body reserves.[92]

To calve, "females travel to isolated, relatively predator-free areas such as islands in lakes, peatlands, lake-shores, or tundra."[65] As females select the habitat for the birth of their calves, they are warier than males.[91] Dugmore noted that, in their seasonal migrations, the herd follows a doe for that reason.[73] Newborns weigh on average 6 kg (13 lb).[80] In May or June the calves are born.[91] After 45 days, the calves are able to graze and forage, but continue suckling until the following autumn when they become independent from their mothers.[92]

Males live four years less than the females, whose maximum longevity is about 17 years. Females with a normal body size and who have had sufficient summer nutrition can begin breeding anytime between the ages of 1 to 3 years.[91] When a female has undergone nutritional stress, it is possible for her to not reproduce for the year.[93] Dominant males, those with larger body size and antler racks, inseminate more than one female a season.

Social structure, migration and range

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The size of the antlers plays a significant role in establishing the hierarchy in the herd.[94]

Some populations of North American caribou, for example many herds in the barren-ground caribou subspecies and some woodland caribou in Ungava and Labrador, migrate the farthest of any terrestrial mammal, travelling up to 5,000 km (3,000 mi) a year, and covering 1,000,000 km2 (400,000 sq mi).[2][95] Other North American populations, the boreal woodland caribou for example, are largely sedentary.[96] The European populations are known to have shorter migrations. Island herds such as the subspecies R. t. pearsoni and R. t. platyrhynchus make local movements. Migrating reindeer can be negatively affected by parasite loads. Severely infected individuals are weak and probably have shortened lifespans, but parasite levels vary between populations. Infections create an effect known as culling: infected migrating animals are less likely to complete the migration.[97]

Normally travelling about 19–55 km (12–34 mi) a day while migrating, the caribou can run at speeds of 60–80 km/h (37–50 mph).[2] Young caribou can already outrun an Olympic sprinter when only a day old.[98] During the spring migration smaller herds will group together to form larger herds of 50,000 to 500,000 animals, but during autumn migrations the groups become smaller and the reindeer begin to mate. During winter, reindeer travel to forested areas to forage under the snow. By spring, groups leave their winter grounds to go to the calving grounds. A reindeer can swim easily and quickly, normally at about 6.5 km/h (4 mph) but, if necessary, at 10 km/h (6 mph) and migrating herds will not hesitate to swim across a large lake or broad river.[2]

As an adaptation to their Arctic environment, they have lost their circadian rhythm.[99]

Ecology

Distribution and habitat

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Swedish reindeer walking
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A reindeer in Suomussalmi, Finland

Originally, the reindeer was found in Scandinavia, eastern Europe, Greenland, Russia, Mongolia and northern China north of the 50th latitude. In North America, it was found in Canada, Alaska, and the northern conterminous United States from Washington to Maine. In the 19th century, it was apparently still present in southern Idaho.[2] Even in historical times, it probably occurred naturally in Ireland and are believed to have lived in Scotland until the 12th century when the last reindeer were hunted in Orkney.[100] During the late Pleistocene era, reindeer occurred further south, such as at Nevada, Tennessee, and Alabama[101] in North America and as far south as Spain in Europe.[94][102] Today, wild reindeer have disappeared from these areas, especially from the southern parts, where it vanished almost everywhere. Large populations of wild reindeer are still found in Norway, Finland, Siberia, Greenland, Alaska and Canada.

According to Grubb (2005), Rangifer tarandus is "circumboreal in the tundra and taiga" from "Svalbard, Norway, Finland, Russia, Alaska (USA) and Canada including most Arctic islands, and Greenland, south to northern Mongolia, China (Inner Mongolia; now only domesticated or feral?), and Sakhalin Island. Reindeer were introduced to, and live ferally in, Iceland, Kerguelen Islands, South Georgia Island, Pribilof Islands, St. Matthew Island[5] and a free-ranging herd in Scotland.[103]

There is strong regional variation in Rangifer herd size. There are large population differences among individual herds and the size of individual herds has varied greatly since 1970. The largest of all herds (in Taimyr, Russia) has varied between 400,000 and 1,000,000; the second largest herd (at the George River in Canada) has varied between 28,000 and 385,000.

While Rangifer is a widespread and numerous genus in the northern Holarctic, being present in both tundra and taiga (boreal forest),[94] by 2013, many herds had "unusually low numbers" and their winter ranges in particular were smaller than they used to be.[6] Caribou and reindeer numbers have fluctuated historically, but many herds are in decline across their range.[104] This global decline is linked to climate change for northern migratory herds and industrial disturbance of habitat for non-migratory herds.[105] Barren-ground caribou are susceptible to the effects of climate change due to a mismatch in the phenological process, between the availability of food during the calving period.[106][107][108]

In November 2016, it was reported that more than 81,000 reindeer in Russia had died as a result of climate change. Longer autumns leading to increased amounts of freezing rain created a few inches of ice over lichen, starving many reindeer.[109]

Diet

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Caribou licking salt from roadway in British Columbia

Reindeer are ruminants, having a four-chambered stomach. They mainly eat lichens in winter, especially reindeer lichen – a unique adaptation among mammals – they are the only large mammal able to metabolise lichen owing to specialised bacteria and protozoa in their gut.[110] They are the only animals (except for some gastropods) in which the enzyme lichenase, which breaks down lichenin to glucose, has been found.[111] However, they also eat the leaves of willows and birches, as well as sedges and grasses.

Reindeer are osteophagous, they are known to gnaw and partly consume shed anlers as a dietary supplement and in some extreme cases will cannibalise each other's antlers before shedding.[112] There is also some evidence to suggest that on occasion, especially in the spring when they are nutritionally stressed,[113] they will feed on small rodents (such as lemmings),[114] fish (such as Arctic char), and bird eggs.[115] Reindeer herded by the Chukchis have been known to devour mushrooms enthusiastically in late summer.[116]

During the Arctic summer, when there is continuous daylight, reindeer change their sleeping pattern from one synchronised with the sun to an ultradian pattern in which they sleep when they need to digest food.[117]

Predators

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Reindeer standing on snow to avoid bloodsucking insects

A variety of predators prey heavily on reindeer, including overhunting by people in some areas, which contributes to the decline of populations.[65]

Golden eagles prey on calves and are the most prolific hunter on the calving grounds.[118] Wolverines will take newborn calves or birthing cows, as well as (less commonly) infirm adults.

Brown bears and polar bears prey on reindeer of all ages, but like the wolverines they are most likely to attack weaker animals, such as calves and sick reindeer, since healthy adult reindeer can usually outpace a bear. The grey wolf is the most effective natural predator of adult reindeer and sometimes takes large numbers, especially during the winter. Some wolf packs, as well as individual grizzly bears in Canada, may follow and live off of a particular reindeer herd year-round.[119][120]

Additionally, as carrion, reindeer may be scavenged opportunistically by foxes, hawks and ravens.

Bloodsucking insects, such as mosquitoes (Culicidae), black flies (Simuliidae), and botflies and deer botflies (Oestridae, specifically, the reindeer warble fly (Hypoderma tarandi) and the reindeer nose botfly (Cephenemyia trompe)),[121][122] are a plague to reindeer during the summer and can cause enough stress to inhibit feeding and calving behaviours.[123] An adult reindeer will lose perhaps about 1 l (1.8 imp pt; 2.1 US pt) of blood to biting insects for every week it spends in the tundra.[98] The population numbers of some of these predators is influenced by the migration of reindeer. Tormenting insects keep caribou on the move searching for windy areas like hilltops and mountain ridges, rock reefs, lakeshore and forest openings, or snow patches that offer respite from the buzzing horde. Gathering in large herds is another strategy that caribou use to block insects.[124]

In one case, the entire body of a reindeer was found in the stomach of a Greenland shark, a species found in the far northern Atlantic, although this was possibly a case of scavenging, considering the dissimilarity of habitats between the ungulate and the large, slow-moving fish.[125]

Other threats

White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) commonly carry meningeal worm or brainworm, a nematode parasite that causes reindeer, moose (Alces alces), elk (Cervus canadensis), and mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) to develop fatal neurological symptoms[126][127][128] which include a loss of fear of humans. White-tailed deer that carry this worm are partly immune to it.[80]

Changes in climate and habitat beginning in the twentieth century have expanded range overlap between white-tailed deer and caribou, increasing the frequency of infection within the reindeer population. This increase in infection is a concern for wildlife managers. Human activities, such as "clear-cutting forestry practices, forest fires, and the clearing for agriculture, roadways, railways, and power lines," favour the conversion of habitats into the preferred habitat of the white-tailed deer-"open forest interspersed with meadows, clearings, grasslands, and riparian flatlands."[80]

Conservation

Current status

While overall widespread and numerous, some subspecies are rare and at least one has already gone extinct.[10][11] As of 2015, the IUCN has classified the reindeer as Vulnerable due to an observed population decline of 40% over the last ≈25 years.[2] According to IUCN, Rangifer tarandus as a species is not endangered because of its overall large population and its widespread range.[2]

In North America, R. t. dawsoni is extinct,[129][11][10] R. t. pearyi is endangered, R. t. caribou is designated as threatened and some individual populations are endangered. While the subspecies R. t. granti and R. t. groenlandicus are not designated as threatened, many individual herds—including some of the largest—are declining and there is much concern at the local level.[130]

Rangifer tarandus is endangered in Canada in regions such as south-eastern British Columbia at the Canada–United States border, along the Columbia, Kootenay and Kootenai rivers and around Kootenay Lake. Rangifer tarandus is now considered extirpated in the conitguous United States, in Idaho and Washington.==July 2021==

There is strong regional variation in Rangifer herd size, By 2013 many caribou herds in North America had "unusually low numbers" and their winter ranges in particular were smaller than they used to be.[130] Caribou numbers have fluctuated historically, but many herds are in decline across their range.[131] There are many factors contributing to the decline in numbers.[132]

Boreal woodland caribou (COSEWIC designation as threatened)

Ongoing human development of their habitat has caused populations of woodland caribou to disappear from their original southern range. In particular, caribou were extirpated in many areas of eastern North America in the beginning of the 20th century. Woodland caribou were designated as threatened in 2002.[14] Environment Canada reported in 2011 that there were approximately 34,000 boreal woodland caribou in 51 ranges remaining in Canada (Environment Canada, 2011b).[15] Professor Marco Musiani of the University of Calgary said in a statement that "The woodland caribou is already an endangered species in southern Canada and the United States....[The] warming of the planet means the disappearance of their critical habitat in these regions. Caribou need undisturbed lichen-rich environments and these types of habitats are disappearing."[133]

Woodland caribou have disappeared from most of their original southern range and were designated as threatened in 2002 by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, (COSEWIC).[14] Environment Canada reported in 2011 that there were approximately 34 000 boreal woodland caribou in 51 ranges remaining in Canada.(Environment Canada, 2011b).[15] "According to Geist, the "woodland caribou is highly endangered throughout its distribution right into Ontario."[5]

In 2002 the Atlantic-Gaspésie population of the woodland caribou was designated as endangered by COSEWIC. The small isolated population of 200 animals was at risk from predation and habitat loss.

Peary caribou (COSEWIC designation as endangered)

In 1991 COSEWIC assigned "endangered status" to the Banks Island and High Arctic populations of Peary caribou. The Low Arctic population of Peary caribou was designated as threatened. By 2004 all three were designated as "endangered."[129]

Numbers have declined by about 72% over the last three generations, mostly because of catastrophic die-off likely related to severe icing episodes. The ice covers the vegetation and caribou starve. Voluntary restrictions on hunting by local people are in place, but have not stopped population declines. Because of the continuing decline and expected changes in long-term weather patterns, this subspecies is at imminent risk of extinction.

— [129]

Relationship with humans

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Reindeer pulling a sled in Russia

The reindeer has an important economic role for all circumpolar peoples, including the Saami, the Swedes, the Norwegians, Finns and the Northwestern Russian in Europe and the Nenets, the Khants, the Evenks, the Yukaghirs, the Chukchi and the Koryaks in Asia and the Inuit in North America. It is believed that domestication started between the Bronze and Iron Ages. Siberian reindeer owners also use the reindeer to ride on (Siberian reindeer are larger than their Scandinavian relatives). For breeders, a single owner may own hundreds or even thousands of animals. The numbers of Russian reindeer herders have been drastically reduced since the fall of the Soviet Union. The sale of fur and meat is an important source of income. Reindeer were introduced into Alaska near the end of the 19th century; they interbred with the native caribou subspecies there. Reindeer herders on the Seward Peninsula have experienced significant losses to their herds from animals (such as wolves) following the wild caribou during their migrations.

Reindeer meat is popular in the Scandinavian countries. Reindeer meatballs are sold canned. Sautéed reindeer is the best-known dish in Sápmi. In Alaska and Finland, reindeer sausage is sold in supermarkets and grocery stores. Reindeer meat is very tender and lean. It can be prepared fresh, but also dried, salted and hot- and cold-smoked. In addition to meat, almost all of the internal organs of reindeer can be eaten, some being traditional dishes.[134] Furthermore, Lapin Poron liha, fresh reindeer meat completely produced and packed in Finnish Sápmi, is protected in Europe with PDO classification.[135][136]

Reindeer antlers are powdered and sold as an aphrodisiac, or as an nutritional or medicinal supplement, to Asian markets.

The blood of the caribou was supposedly mixed with alcohol as drink by hunters and loggers in colonial Quebec to counter the cold. This drink is now enjoyed without the blood as a wine and whiskey drink known as Caribou.[137][138]

Reindeer and the indigenous peoples of North America

Wild reindeer are still hunted in Greenland and in North America. In the traditional lifestyle of the Inuit people, the northern First Nations people, the Alaska Natives, and the Kalaallit of Greenland, reindeer is an important source of food, clothing, shelter and tools.

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Early 20th Century Inuit parka from caribou skin

The Caribou Inuit are inland-dwelling Inuit in present-day Nunavut's Keewatin Region, Canada, now known as the Kivalliq Region. They subsisted on caribou year-round, eating dried caribou meat in the winter. The Ihalmiut are caribou Inuit that followed the Qamanirjuaq barren-ground caribou herd.[139]

There is an Inuit saying in the Kivalliq Region:[110]

The caribou feeds the wolf, but it is the wolf who keeps the caribou strong.

— Kivalliq region

Elder Chief of Koyukuk and chair for the Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group, Benedict Jones, or Kʼughtoʼoodenoolʼoʼ, represents the Middle Yukon River, Alaska. His grandmother was a member of the Caribou Clan, who travelled with the caribou as a means to survive. In 1939, they were living the traditional life style at one of their hunting camps in Koyukuk near the location of what is now the Koyukuk National Wildlife Refuge. His grandmother made a pair of new mukluks in one day. Kʼughtoʼoodenoolʼoʼ recounted a story told by an elder, who "worked on the steamboats during the gold rush days out on the Yukon." In late August the caribou migrated from the Alaska Range up north to Huslia, Koyukuk and the Tanana area. One year when the steamboat was unable to continue they ran into a caribou herd estimated to number a million animals, migrating across Yukon. "They tied up for seven days waiting for the caribou to cross. They ran out of wood for the steamboats, and had to go back down 40 miles to the wood pile to pick up some more wood. On the tenth day, they came back and they said there was still caribou going across the river night and day."[30]

The Gwich'in, the indigenous people of northwestern Canada and northeastern Alaska, have been dependent on the international migratory Porcupine caribou herd for millennia.[140]:142 To them caribou—vadzaih—is the cultural symbol and a keystone subsistence species of the Gwich'in, just as the buffalo is to the Plains Indians.[141] Innovative language revitalisation projects are underway to document the language and to enhance the writing and translation skills of younger Gwich'in speakers. In one project lead research associate and fluent speaker Gwich’in elder Kenneth Frank works with linguists which include young Gwich'in speakers affiliated with the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks to document traditional knowledge of caribou anatomy. The main goal of the research, was to "elicit not only what the Gwich'in know about caribou anatomy, but how they see caribou and what they say and believe about caribou that defines themselves, their dietary and nutritional needs, and their subsistence way of life."[141] Elders have identified at least 150 descriptive Gwich'in names for all of the bones, organs and tissues. Associated with the caribou's anatomy are not just descriptive Gwich'in names for all of the body parts including bones, organs, and tissues, but also "an encyclopedia of stories, songs, games, toys, ceremonies, traditional tools, skin clothing, personal names and surnames, and a highly developed ethnic cuisine."[141]

In the 1980s, Gwich'in Traditional Management Practices were established to protect the Porcupine caribou, upon which the Gwich'in people depend. They "codified traditional principles of caribou management into tribal law" which include "limits on the harvest of caribou and procedures to be followed in processing and transporting caribou meat" and limits on the number of caribou to be taken per hunting trip.[142]

Reindeer and the indigenous peoples of Eurasia

Reindeer herding has been vital for the subsistence of several Eurasian nomadic indigenous people living in the circumpolar Arctic zone as Sámi, Nenets, and Komi.[143] Reindeer are used to provide renewable sources and reliable transportation. In Mongolia, Dukha people are known as the reindeer people. They are credited as one of the world's earliest domesticators. Dukha diet consists mainly of reindeer dairy products.[144]

Reindeer husbandry is common in Fennoscandia (Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the North-West Russian region). In Norway and Sweden, reindeer ownership is restricted to Sámi people.[145] In some human groups as the Eveny, wild reindeer and domesticated reindeer are treated as different kinds of beings.[146]

Reindeer husbandry

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A reindeer sled, Arkhangelsk, Russia. Late nineteenth-century photochrom
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Milking reindeer in Western Finnmark, Norway in the 19th century

The reindeer is the only domesticated deer in the world, though it may be more accurate to consider reindeer as semi-domesticated. Reindeer in northern Fennoscandia (northern Norway, Sweden and Finland) as well in the Kola Peninsula and Yakutia in Russia, are all semi-wild domestic reindeer (Rangifer tarandus forma domesticus), ear-marked by their owners. Some reindeer in the area are truly domesticated, mostly used as draught animals (nowadays commonly for tourist entertainment and races, traditionally important for the nomadic Sámi). Domesticated reindeer have also been used for milk, e.g. in Norway.

There are only two genetically pure populations of wild reindeer in Northern Europe: wild mountain reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus) that live in central Norway, with a population in 2007 of between 6,000 and 8,400 animals;[147] and wild Finnish forest reindeer (Rangifer tarandus fennicus) that live in central and eastern Finland and in Russian Karelia, with a population of about 4,350, plus 1,500 in Arkhangelsk and 2,500 in Komi.[148]

DNA analysis indicates that reindeer were independently domesticated in Fennoscandia and Western Russia (and possibly Eastern Russia).[149] Reindeer have been herded for centuries by several Arctic and sub-Arctic peoples, including the Sámi, the Nenets and the Yakuts. They are raised for their meat, hides and antlers and, to a lesser extent, for milk and transportation. Reindeer are not considered fully domesticated, as they generally roam free on pasture grounds. In traditional nomadic herding, reindeer herders migrate with their herds between coastal and inland areas according to an annual migration route and herds are keenly tended. However, reindeer were not bred in captivity, though they were tamed for milking as well as for use as draught animals or beasts of burden. Domesticated reindeer are shorter-legged and heavier than their wild counterparts. In Scandinavia, management of reindeer herds is primarily conducted through siida a traditional Sámi form of cooperative association.[150]

The use of reindeer for transportation is common among the nomadic peoples of northern Russia (but not anymore in Scandinavia). Although a sled drawn by 20 reindeer will cover no more than 20–25 km (12 to 15 miles) a day (compared to 7–10 km; 4 to 6 miles on foot, 70–80 km; 45 to 50 miles by a dog sled loaded with cargo and 150–180 km; 90 to 110 miles by a dog sled without cargo), it has the advantage that the reindeer will discover their own food, while a pack of 5–7 sled dogs requires 10–14 kg (25 to 30 lb) of fresh fish a day.[151]

The use of reindeer as semi-domesticated livestock in Alaska was introduced in the late 19th century by the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, with assistance from Sheldon Jackson, as a means of providing a livelihood for Native peoples there.[152] Reindeer were imported first from Siberia and later also from Norway. A regular mail run in Wales, Alaska, used a sleigh drawn by reindeer.[153] In Alaska, reindeer herders use satellite telemetry to track their herds, using online maps and databases to chart the herd's progress.

Domesticated reindeer are mostly found in northern Fennoscandia and Russia, with a herd of approximately 150–170 reindeer living around the Cairngorms region in Scotland. The last remaining wild tundra reindeer in Europe are found in portions of southern Norway.[154] The International Centre for Reindeer Husbandry (ICR), a circumpolar organisation, was established in 2005 by the Norwegian government. ICR represents over 20 indigenous reindeer peoples and about 100,000 reindeer herders in 9 different national states.[155] In Finland, there are about 6,000 reindeer herders, most of whom keep small herds of less than 50 reindeer to raise additional income. With 185,000 reindeer (2001), the industry produces 2,000 tons of reindeer meat and generates 35 million euros annually. 70% of the meat is sold to slaughterhouses. Reindeer herders are eligible for national and EU agricultural subsidies, which constituted 15% of their income. Reindeer herding is of central importance for the local economies of small communities in sparsely populated rural Sápmi.[156]

Currently, many reindeer herders are heavily dependent on diesel fuel to provide for electric generators and snowmobile transportation, although solar photovoltaic systems can be used to reduce diesel dependency.[157]

In history

Reindeer hunting by humans has a very long history and wild reindeer "may well be the species of single greatest importance in the entire anthropological literature on hunting."[16]

Both Aristotle and Theophrastus have short accounts – probably based on the same source – of an ox-sized deer species, named tarandos, living in the land of the Bodines in Scythia, which was able to change the colour of its fur to obtain camouflage. The latter is probably a misunderstanding of the seasonal change in reindeer fur colour. The descriptions have been interpreted as being of reindeer living in the southern Ural Mountains in c. 350 BC[21]

 src=
The tragelaphus or deer-goat

A deer-like animal described by Julius Caesar in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico (chapter 6.26) from the Hercynian Forest in the year 53 BC is most certainly to be interpreted as reindeer:[21][158]

There is an ox shaped like a stag. In the middle of its forehead a single horn grows between its ears, taller and straighter than the animal horns with which we are familiar. At the top this horn spreads out like the palm of a hand or the branches of a tree. The females are of the same form as the males, and their horns are the same shape and size.

According to Olaus Magnus's Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus – printed in Rome in 1555 – Gustav I of Sweden sent 10 reindeer to Albert I, Duke of Prussia, in the year 1533. It may be these animals that Conrad Gessner had seen or heard of.

During World War II, the Soviet Army used reindeer as pack animals to transport food, ammunition and post from Murmansk to the Karelian front and bring wounded soldiers, pilots and equipment back to the base. About 6,000 reindeer and more than 1,000 reindeer herders were part of the operation. Most herders were Nenets, who were mobilised from the Nenets Autonomous Okrug, but reindeer herders from Murmansk, Arkhangelsk and Komi also participated.[159][160]

Santa Claus's reindeer

 src=
Two Scottish reindeer relax after pulling Santa's sleigh at the switching on of Christmas lights

Around the world, public interest in reindeer peaks in the Christmas period.[161] According to folklore, Santa Claus's sleigh is pulled by flying reindeer. These were first named in the 1823 poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas".

In mythology and art

Among the Inuit, there is a story of the origin of the caribou,[162]

Once upon a time there were no caribou on the earth. But there was a man who wished for caribou, and he cut a hole deep in the ground, and up this hole came caribou, many caribou. The caribou came pouring out, until the earth was almost covered with them. And when the man thought there were caribou enough for mankind, he closed up the hole again. Thus the caribou came up on earth.

— [162]

Inuit artists from the barren lands, incorporate depictions of caribou—and items made from caribou antlers and skin—in carvings, drawings, prints and sculpture.

Contemporary Canadian artist Brian Jungen's, of Dunne-za First Nations ancestry, commissioned an installation entitled "The ghosts on top of my head" (2010–11) in Banff, Alberta, which depicts the antlers of caribou, elk and moose.[163]

I remember a story my Uncle Jack told me – a Dunne-Za creation story about how animals once ruled the earth and were ten times their size and that got me thinking about scale and using the idea of the antler, which is a thing that everyone is scared of, and making it into something more approachable and abstract.

— Brian Jungen 2011[163]

Tomson Highway, CM[164] is a Canadian and Cree playwright, novelist, and children's author, who was born in a remote area north of Brochet, Manitoba.[164] His father, Joe Highway, was a caribou hunter. His 2001 children's book entitled Caribou Song/atíhko níkamon was selected as one of the "Top 10 Children’s Books" by the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail. The young protagonists of Caribou Song, like Tomson himself, followed the caribou herd with their families.

Heraldry and symbols

 src=
A reindeer in the coats of arms of Kuusamo

Several Norwegian municipalities have one or more reindeer depicted in their coats-of-arms: Eidfjord, Porsanger, Rendalen, Tromsø, Vadsø and Vågå. The historic province of Västerbotten in Sweden has a reindeer in its coat of arms. The present Västerbotten County has very different borders and uses the reindeer combined with other symbols in its coat-of-arms. The city of Piteå also has a reindeer. The logo for Umeå University features three reindeer.[165]

The Canadian 25-cent coin, or "quarter" features a depiction of a caribou on one face. The caribou is the official provincial animal of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, and appears on the coat of arms of Nunavut. A caribou statue was erected at the centre of the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial, marking the spot in France where hundreds of soldiers from Newfoundland were killed and wounded in World War I and there is a replica in Bowring Park in St. John's, Newfoundland's capital city.[166]

Two municipalities in Finland have reindeer motifs in their coats-of-arms: Kuusamo[167] has a running reindeer and Inari[168] has a fish with reindeer antlers.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ The Integrated Taxonomic Information System list Wilson and Geist on their experts panel.
  2. ^ a b c Banfield rejected this classification in 1961. However, Geist and others considered it valid.
  3. ^ The George River and Leaf River caribou herds are classified as woodland caribou, but are also migratory with tundra as their primary range.
  4. ^ According to Inuit elder, Marie Kilunik of the Aivilingmiut, Canadian Inuit preferred the caribou skins from caribou taken in the late summer of fall when their coats had thickened. They used for winter clothing "because each hair is hollow and fills with air trapping heat."(Marie Kilunik, Aivilingmiut, Crnkovich 1990:116).

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Reindeer: Brief Summary

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The reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), also known as caribou in North America, is a species of deer with circumpolar distribution, native to Arctic, subarctic, tundra, boreal, and mountainous regions of northern Europe, Siberia, and North America. This includes both sedentary and migratory populations. Rangifer herd size varies greatly in different geographic regions.

Rangifer varies in size and colour from the smallest, the Svalbard reindeer, to the largest, the boreal woodland caribou. The North American range of caribou extends from Alaska through the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut into the boreal forest and south through the Canadian Rockies. The barren-ground caribou, Porcupine caribou, and Peary caribou live in the tundra, while the shy boreal woodland caribou prefer the boreal forest. The Porcupine caribou and the barren-ground caribou form large herds and undertake lengthy seasonal migrations from birthing grounds to summer and winter feeding grounds in the tundra and taiga. The migrations of Porcupine caribou herds are among the longest of any mammal. Barren-ground caribou are also found in Kitaa in Greenland, but the larger herds are in Alaska, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut.

The Taimyr herd of migrating Siberian tundra reindeer (R. t. sibiricus) in Russia is the largest wild reindeer herd in the world, varying between 400,000 and 1,000,000. What was once the second largest herd is the migratory boreal woodland caribou (R. t. caribou) George River herd in Canada, with former variations between 28,000 and 385,000. As of January 2018, there are fewer than 9,000 animals estimated to be left in the George River herd, as reported by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The New York Times reported in April 2018 of the disappearance of the only herd of southern mountain caribou in the contiguous United States with an expert calling it "functionally extinct" after the herd's size dwindled to a mere three animals. After the last member, a female, was translocated to a wildlife rehab center in Canada, the caribou is considered extirpated from the Lower 48.

Some subspecies are rare and at least two have already become extinct: the Queen Charlotte Islands caribou of Canada and the Arctic reindeer from East Greenland. Historically, the range of the sedentary boreal woodland caribou covered more than half of Canada and into the northern states of the contiguous U.S. Woodland caribou have disappeared from most of their original southern range and were designated as threatened in 2002 by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Environment Canada reported in 2011 that there were approximately 34,000 boreal woodland caribou in 51 ranges remaining in Canada (Environment Canada, 2011b). Siberian tundra reindeer herds are in decline, and Rangifer tarandus is considered to be vulnerable by the IUCN.

Arctic peoples have depended on caribou for food, clothing, and shelter, such as the Caribou Inuit, the inland-dwelling Inuit of the Kivalliq Region in northern Canada, the Caribou Clan in the Yukon, the Inupiat, the Inuvialuit, the Hän, the Northern Tutchone, and the Gwich'in (who followed the Porcupine caribou for millennia). Hunting wild reindeer and herding of semi-domesticated reindeer are important to several Arctic and sub-Arctic peoples such as the Duhalar for meat, hides, antlers, milk, and transportation. The Sami people (Sápmi) have also depended on reindeer herding and fishing for centuries.:IV:16:IV In Sápmi, reindeer are used to pull a pulk, a Nordic sled.

Male and female reindeer can grow antlers annually, although the proportion of females that grow antlers varies greatly between population and season. Antlers are typically larger on males. In traditional Christmas legend, Santa Claus's reindeer pull a sleigh through the night sky to help Santa Claus deliver gifts to good children on Christmas Eve.

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