Barren-ground Caribou

Hart River caribou herd - Barren-ground caribou.

Name

  • Common name: Barren-ground Caribou
  • Scientific name: Rangifer tarandus grantii
  • Order: Artiodactyla
  • Family: Cervidae

Also known as

Reindeer, Tuktu, R. tarandus groenlandicus

Viewing opportunities

  • Lucky travelers along the Dempster Highway in winter may see some Porcupine Caribou.
  • River travelers may see large numbers of Porcupine caribou crossing the Firth River in July or Porcupine River in September.

Description

  • Dirty brown fur fading to tan to off-white around the neck.
  • Face darker than rest of the body with a white muzzle.
  • White ‘socks’ above the hooves and white tail.
  • Male antlers have one long curved branch with tines clustered at the top and a ‘shovel’ branching over the forehead.
  • Females also have antlers that are much smaller and not as elaborate.
  • Slightly smaller than Woodland Caribou.

Fast facts

  • Height: 120 cm
  • Weight: 120 kg
  • Lifespan: 6 to 10 years
  • Predators: Wolves, Grizzly Bears, Golden Eagles
  • Habitat: Arctic Tundra

Conservation status

What is conservation status?

  • Yukon: S3S4 (Vulnerable/Apparently Secure)
  • Global: G5T4(Secure/Sub-species Apparently Secure)

Yukon population estimate

165,000 to 220,000

Behaviour

Barren-ground Caribou are herd animals and can be found in Yukon in the massive Porcupine Herd (169,000) or the smaller Forty Mile Herd (51,000). The open tundra and sparse trees allow the herds to see predators from a great distance. Large herds will move together between calving grounds and summer feeding, to wintering grounds to the south. Cows will keep antlers until they calve in June allowing pregnant females to claim and defend the best feeding areas in late winter when they need high quality food.

Diet

Lichen, forbs, grasses, sedges, willows and mushrooms.

Distribution

Barren-ground Caribou distribution map

Sights and sounds

Barren-ground Caribou track, front.
Barren-ground Caribou track, front: 10.2 x 13.0 cm.

Caribou poop.
Pellets approximately 1 cm. Credit: Shyloh VanDelft.

Caribou and people

  • To hunt caribou, native peoples built fences with poles and brush, as long as 1.5 kilometers with numerous openings with snares. Caribou were chased into the fence where hunters waited with bows and arrows or spears.
  • All parts of the caribou were traditionally used including the bones for utensils, sinews for thread and fat to produce light and heat.
  • The Forty Mile Herd also known as “The Goldrush Herd” fed many gold seekers along the Yukon River from Whitehorse to the Klondike and beyond to Fairbanks, Alaska. It was one of the largest caribou herds and also became one of the most exploited.
  • The Porcupine Caribou Management Board includes government agencies and user communities in Yukon and NWT in the joint management of that herd.