Caribou? Which Caribou?

Usually when people engaged in boreal forest conservation mention “caribou,” they mean the boreal forest (also called woodland) caribou. These animals are not migratory, do not congregate in traditional calving areas, are low in numbers, found in small groups, and have been formally classified as “threatened” throughout their range in Canada.
When conservationists in BC mention “caribou,” they usually mean mountain caribou, which migrate short distances between lower and higher elevations, are also found in small herds, and are generally abundant in the northern part of their Canadian range. Some specific herds in the south are highly endangered.
When people in the Arctic mention “caribou,” they usually mean migratory tundra (also called barren-ground) caribou. These are (or were) the iconic large herds of thousands of animals that migrate long distances, often from below tree-line in winter out onto the tundra to calve in traditional calving areas, and are an extremely important food source for Dene and Inuit communities. These animals’ populations fluctuate dramatically, most herds today are in decline, some are at risk (for example endangered High Arctic Peary caribou), and a few herds appear to have “bottomed out” and are now stable or even beginning to recover.

All three types of caribou are the same species (Rangifer tarandus), as is the European reindeer. Currently WWF has prepared a draft strategy for migratory tundra caribou and wild reindeer for the entire world’s Arctic. This “circum-arctic” conservation plan is in keeping with WWF’s worldwide presence and conservation ambitions. If you would like to comment on this document, we would be genuinely interested in hearing from you. Just go to here [PDF] for your chance to influence WWF’s worldwide conservation actions over the next 10-15 years.
I am often asked, “Monte, how are the caribou doing these days?” Now I hope you can understand why my first response pretty much has to be, “Which caribou?”
(Monte Hummel is President Emeritus of WWF Canada, and co-author with Justina Ray of Caribou and the North: A Shared Future, Dundurn Press, 2008)