© Alexandre Paiement Barren Ground Caribou


With its distinctive tall and flat antlers, the caribou is one of Canada’s most recognizable species, inhabiting the Arctic, boreal and mountain regions.

About barren-ground Caribou

Caribou or reindeer? They’re actually the same. “Reindeer” is the name given to caribou in Scandinavia and Russia, but caribou and reindeer are the same species (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus) wherever they are found in the world.

That said, there are different subspecies with different behaviors. Reindeer are largely herded by the Indigenous Sámi people in Scandinavia and Russia, though there are also significant wild reindeer herds. Caribou in North America are wild and mostly migratory, but even here we find differences. The at-risk woodland caribou are the big-antlered ones on our 25-cent coin that inhabit Canada’s southern boreal forests. The smaller barren-ground caribou that roam the Arctic are also under threat and have critically provided food, clothing and cultural identity to Indigenous peoples for thousands of years.

Barren-ground caribou are also the top terrestrial migrators in the whole world — even more than wildebeest or antelope in the Serengeti — and the spectacle of hundreds of thousands of caribou migrating the longest distance of any animal alive is something to be in awe of.

Today, their numbers are dropping dramatically — for many herds by more than 90 per cent.

Caribou Facts

Caribou from the George River area, Labrador, Canada.



Scientific Name:

Rangifer tarandus

Inuktitut Name:




Threatened A wildlife species that is likely to become endangered if nothing is done to reverse the factors leading to its extirpation or extinction.


Males up to 150 kg, females up to 135 kg


Up to 1.2 m tall


Approximately 800,000


Tundra and boreal forest


Arctic Canada


Lichen, sedges and grasses

Did You Know?

Male caribou are called bulls, while females are called cows.

Barren ground caribou range map

Barren ground caribou range map

Why Are Caribou Important?

Caribou are an essential resource to Indigenous Peoples. Northern communities have an intimate relationship with caribou herds and have relied on them as a source of traditional food and clothing for millennia. With such a strong interest in the  protection of caribou and as the only people living among the most northern caribou herds, northern communities are essential partners in caribou conservation projects.

Caribou are important to ecosystems, too. When they forage on vegetation in the summer, their droppings add nitrogen to the tundra soil and water. Caribou are also an important prey species for many carnivores in the Arctic, including wolves and brown bears.

© Shutterstock Caribou standing on rocks


Caribou populations fluctuate dramatically under natural conditions. When faced with external threats, their numbers can drop to dangerous levels and may fail to recover from natural population lows. There are multiple cumulative environmental and human-caused stressors that are contributing to barren-ground caribou decline.

Climate change is altering the habitat of Arctic caribou, increasing the presence of biting flies in the summer, and creating irregular icing events in the winter that prevent caribou from accessing food.

Most Arctic caribou are migratory, and their habitat crosses territorial and provincial borders. As the climate changes, and migration patterns shift, it will be increasingly important for governments to implement effective land-use planning to support wildlife and ecosystems.

Increased mining exploration and development across their ranges also puts caribou herds under pressure, with the most significant risk of habitat loss and disturbance occurring when industrial development occurs on their calving grounds.

What WWF-Canada is Doing

WWF-Canada is taking a holistic approach to caribou recovery, beginning with listening to community priorities. We work closely with Indigenous partners to ensure their voices are heard in land-use planning and extractive industry environmental impact assessments. We also fund many caribou conservation projects, from on the ground initiatives to Indigenous Knowledge studies to improve caribou conservation planning.

We also advocate  at government levels while working with industry on solutions that protect caribou and their habitat while still providing economic opportunities to people  in the North.

© Don Russell Herd of Caribou in the Yukon

What You Can Do

Caribou numbers are dropping dramatically. With your gift, you can help protect some of the world’s most vulnerable species and the habitats they call home.

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