WCS Canada


Fast Facts

Scientific Name: Rangifer tarandus
  • Caribou and reindeer belong to the same species.
  • Caribou are the only member of the deer family where both males and females have antlers.
  • Caribou have broad, flat cloven hooves, perfect for walking on snow. They also have hair on the bottom of their feet to provide insulation.

Caribou are medium-sized members of the deer family. They  are found in boreal, montane, and Arctic environments in all Canadian Provinces and Territories, except New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Over this broad area, caribou exhibit tremendous variability in ecology and behaviour - the basis by which different caribou ecotypes are recognized. For example, migratory tundra caribou spend winter in the boreal forest before moving to the tundra to calve in large groups. Mountain caribou calve at upper elevations and undertake migrations to winter ranges elsewhere in the mountains, while boreal caribou are relatively sedentary, calve alone, and spend all year long in coniferous forest habitats that stretch from Newfoundland to the northeast of British Columbia and the Northwest Territories. Caribou have many adaptations to cold environments, including dense fur, large fat stores, large and sharp hooves for digging under ice and snow, and physiological mechanisms that reduce heat loss and energy expenditure. They are one of the primary herbivores in Arctic regions and are the only vertebrate grazers of lichens in northern environments. 

The conservation status of caribou in North America is showing many signs of deterioration. Over the past 150 years, caribou have lost about 40% of their southern range, having disappeared from Maritimes and New England over a century ago. Boreal caribou populations do not fare well in areas disturbed by forest clearing through human activities.  Accumulated developments like roads and clearcuts tip the balance in favour of caribou predators such as wolves and bears, whose travel is further facilitated by human-made corridors.  Human hunting pressure also increases in areas where access is made easier by roads. 


Surveying Caribou

WCS scientists have focused research and conservation efforts on caribou in northern Ontario and in the NWT and Yukon. Our research efforts on this species have been focused mostly on boreal forests through baseline surveys and ecological research. For example, WCS has been leading research efforts to better understand the relationship between caribou and human development and the past and current state of caribou populations in places such as Ontario.

Informing Policy

WCS disseminates key findings to various audiences and decision-makers, and our staff participate as scientific advisors in national and provincial recovery efforts. Our goal is to help inform resource managers, governments and others about how to best address the needs of caribou with development, and how to monitor caribou in large roadless areas. Caribou serve as an important barometer of the health of the northern landscapes in which they live.

Caribou Conservation

Populations of forest-dwelling caribou have receded in the face of industrial forestry in Ontario. In northern Ontario, there is limited information on the status of the herds or populations. WCS is working to compare scientific information about where caribou were once found in Ontario with data on human-caused disturbances, including wildfires, logging, roads, and tourism infrastructure, to understand what level and types of disturbance caribou can tolerate.

Key Staff

Justina C. Ray
WCS Canada President & Senior Scientist
Donald Reid
Northern Boreal Mountains Landscape Leader
All Caribou Staff >>

Latest Publications

Securing a Wild Future - Planning for Landscape-Scale Conservation of Yukon's Boreal Mountains
The cumulative effects of unplanned development can result in the piecemeal erosion of ecological values, with significant impacts on wildlife populations. The capacity of Yukon's Boreal Mountains to accommodate additional growth of the development footprint before ecological values and traditional economies are significantly compromised is unknown. Just a single road through a large, continuous block of intact habitat opens an area up to further resource use, wildlife exploitation, land conversion, motorised and non-motorized recreation, and continued expansion of the road network. This study examines the gaps in existing protection and opportunities and priorities for proactive landscape-scale conservation across approximately 290,000 square kilometres of the southern Yukon using the BEACON’s benchmarking modelling approach.
BIG ANIMALS and SMALL PARKS - Implications of Wildlife Distribution and Movements for Expansion of Nahanni National Park Reserve
This WCS report describes the ‘boundary problem’ of Nahanni National Park Reserve in the Northwest Territories of Canada where it’s small size and narrow shape presents a challenge for protection of wide ranging species. Surveys were conducted on the distribution and seasonal movements of grizzly bears, Dall’s sheep, and woodland caribou to inform decisions on park expansion and land use planning.
Caribou and the North - A Shared Future
The book explores the reason for the interlinked fate of caribou and the North, as it relates to migratory tundra caribou, boreal forest caribou, and mountain caribou in Canada and the U.S. Climate change coupled with widespread oil, gas, and mineral development adds new pressure for the region’s iconic wildlife.

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WCS Canada
344 Bloor Street West, Suite 204 Toronto, Ontario, M5S 3A7
(416) 850-9038