The Woodland Caribou is a medium-sized (smaller than moose, but larger than deer) mammal found throughout the northern boreal forest.
Adult bulls (males) weigh up to 600 lbs, but average about 400 lbs. Cows (females) average 250 lbs. Their life span is about 10-15 years.
Both males and females grow antlers, which is unique in all the members of the deer family, but cows’ are shorter and have fewer points. The antlers are shed each year and regrow. Within the small herds, the males with the largest antlers are dominant.
The Woodland Caribou, found in the thick boreal forest, is different than the vast northern herds of caribou found in Alaska, Yukon, and Northwest Territories. Generally when we think of caribou we think of the giant herds and giant antlers. However, the woodland caribou is a smaller animal who prefer to travel in small groups. Their migration patterns are much shorter than their northern cousins. And because of the thick boreal forest, their antlers are much smaller.
Woodland caribou are herbivores. Caribou’s major food sources are ground and tree lichens. It takes 80 to 150 years for a forest to grow enough lichens for caribou to exist. They also eat shrubs, grasses and willows.
Caribou mate in early to mid-October. Calves are born by early June. A cow doesn’t mate or breed until she’s two-and-a-half and will usually have one calf per year.
In the forests of all of Canada, the caribou are considered an important and traditional food for native peoples.
Woodland caribou are well adapted to their northern environment. Their hooves are large and well-insulated for standing on snow and ice and are adapted for digging through snow for food.
Unfortunatley, the woodland caribou is an edangered species throughout Central Canada. Caribou once ranged across most of the northern hemisphere, but now only inhabit a small fraction of that land. Pressure from logging, mining, and human development have had significant impacts on their habitat and future.
The main enemies of caribou are people and wolves. Wolverines, lynx, and the golden eagle may kill and eat some of the young.
The woodland caribou once lived in the US as well. In fact, there is evidence of them living from the coast of Maine to the Pacific coast of Washington, and as far south as Idaho. Unfortunately, the woodland caribou is most endangered large mammal in the lower 48 states. The woodland caribou has been reduced to a population of less than 40 in the southern Selkirk Mountains of northern Idaho, northeast Washington, and southeast British Columbia.
However, the more we know about this great animal and its habitat the better equipped we’ll be to help protect it!