Boreal woodland caribou

Boreal woodland caribou

Woodland caribou, Boreal forest caribou, Forest-dwelling caribou


Rangifer tarandus caribou

The boreal woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou ), also known as woodland caribou, boreal forest caribou and forest-dwelling caribou, is a North American subspecies of reindeer (or caribou in North America) found only in Canada. Unlike the Porcupine caribou and barren-ground caribou, boreal woodland caribou are primarily, but not always, sedentary.

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The boreal woodland caribou is the largest of the caribou subspecies and is darker in colour than the barren-ground caribou. Valerius Geist, specialist on large North American mammals, described the "true" woodland caribou as ”the uniformly dark, small-maned type with the frontally emphasized, flat-beamed antlers" which is "scattered thinly along the southern rim of North American caribou distribution". Geist asserts that ”the true woodland caribou is very rare, in very great difficulties and requires the most urgent of attention", but suggests that this urgency is compromised by the inclusion of the Newfoundland caribou, the Labrador caribou, and Osborn's caribou in the Rangifer tarandus caribou subspecies. In Geist's opinion, the inclusion of these additional populations obscures the precarious position of the "true" woodland caribou.

They prefer lichen-rich mature forests and mainly live in marshes, bogs, lakes and river regions.

The historic range of the boreal woodland caribou covered over half of present-day Canada, stretching from Alaska to Newfoundland and Labrador. The national meta-population of this sedentary boreal ecotype spans the boreal forest from the Northwest Territories to Labrador (but not Newfoundland). Their former range stretched south into the contiguous United States. By 2019, the last individual in the Lower 48 (a female) was captured and taken to a rehab center in British Columbia, thus marking the extirpation of the caribou in the contiguous U.S.

The boreal woodland caribou was designated as threatened in 2002 by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Environment Canada reported in 2011 that there were approximately 34,000 boreal caribou in 51 ranges remaining in Canada.(Environment Canada, 2011b). In a joint report by Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) and the David Suzuki Foundation, on the status of boreal woodland caribou, claim that "the biggest risk to caribou is industrial development, which fragments their habitat and exposes them to greater predation. Scientists consider only 30% (17 of 57) of Canada’s boreal woodland caribou populations to be self-sustaining." "They are extremely sensitive to both natural (such as forest fires) and human disturbance, and to habitat damage and fragmentation brought about by resource exploration, road building, and other human activity. New forest growth following destruction of vegetation provides habitat and food for other ungulates, which in turn attracts more predators, putting pressure on woodland caribou."

Compared to barren-ground caribou or Alaskan caribou, boreal woodland caribou do not form large aggregations and are more dispersed particularly at calving time. Their seasonal movements are not as extensive. Mallory and Hillis explained how, "In North America populations of the woodland caribou subspecies typically form small isolated herds in winter but are relatively sedentary and migrate only short distances (50 – 150 km) during the rest of the year."

The name caribou was probably derived from the Mi'kmaq word xalibu or qalipu meaning "the one who paws".

According to the then-Canadian Wildlife Service Chief Mammalogist, Frank Banfield, the earliest record of Rangifer tarandus caribou in North America is from a 1.6 million year old tooth found in the Yukon Territory. Other early records of caribou include a "45,500-year-old cranial fragment from the Yukon and a 40,600-year-old antler from Quebec."

The caribou design on the Royal Canadian Mint quarter was first used in 1937.

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In 2012 Environment Canada identified 51 Rangifer tarandus caribou (boreal woodland caribou) or boreal ecotype of forest-dwelling woodland caribou ranges in Canada.

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The northernmost range of boreal woodland caribou in Canada is in the Mackenzie River Delta area, Northwest Territories. In 2000, in the Northwest Territories, boreal woodland caribou had a very large range and the population was assessed and was not considered to be at risk. The population is identified as NT1 for conservation purposes.

The southernmost populations of the boreal woodland caribou are isolated populations on Lake Superior in Ontario, Canada such as the Slate Islands and Michipicoten Island.

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Boreal woodland caribou habitat map
Boreal woodland caribou habitat map
Boreal woodland caribou
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Habits and Lifestyle

Diet and Nutrition

Mating Habits

Female woodland caribou reach maturity at 16 months, and males at 18–20. Males usually do not breed before reaching three or four years of age, due to the hierarchical nature of the herd and competition with older males. Their reproduction rate is low. Breeding occurs at the end of September and the beginning of October. Calves are born in mid-June. Precise dates may vary based on geographical region. For conservation and herd management purposes, migratory herds are often defined in terms of female natal philopatry or natal homing – the tendency to return to natal calving areas. Female boreal woodland caribou and their newborn calves are more vulnerable to predation than migratory caribou, as they often calve separate from the rest of the herd and remain solitary until mid-winter.


Population threats

According to the 2019 Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou, the "primary threat to most boreal caribou local populations is unnaturally high predation rates." Caribou habitat fragmentation, loss, and degradation—as a result of by both human activities and natural causes—supports an increase in populations of the caribou's natural predator, the wolf (Canis lupus ) In areas where there has been extensive fragmentation of the forest, often with the crisscrossing of seismic lines. efforts are being made to restore these disturbed area to decrease wolves' access to the woodland caribou's preferred habitat, the peatlands. Caribou mortality increased and populations declined as the hunting success of wolves that followed seismic lines, increased.

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Boreal woodland caribou were once found throughout much of Ontario's boreal forest; at the turn of the 20th century they ranged as far south as northern Wisconsin. The last permanent residents were killed in Minnesota in 1962. Despite periodic sightings of individuals south of the border the caribou range has receded approximately 34 km/decade, the manifestation of widespread range collapse and population decline. Although boreal woodland caribou have been protected from sport hunting since 1929, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada listed them in Canada as threatened (likely to become endangered if limiting factors are not reversed) in 2000. Boreal woodland caribou may be extinct before the year 2100 if the rate of range loss continues. "Destruction of habitat, hunting and disturbances by humans during the construction of roads and pipelines are all factors that have contributed to the decline of Woodland Caribou."

David Suzuki explained that,

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Population number

Experts in Finland are also concerned about their R. tarandus subspecies, R. t. fennicus or the Finnish forest reindeer, where an increasing, returning wolf population may be partially responsible for slowing the recovery.

Coloring Pages


1. Boreal woodland caribou Wikipedia article -

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