Barren-ground caribou

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Barren-ground caribou
Caribou Thelon River 1978.jpg
Barren-ground caribou herd near the Thelon River
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Clade: Synapsida
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Cervidae
Subfamily: Capreolinae
Genus: Rangifer
Species: R. tarandus
Subspecies: R. t. groenlandicus
Trinomial name
Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus
(Borowski, 1780)
Rangifer tarandus Map NA.svg
Approximate range of barren-ground caribou. Overlap with other subspecies of caribou is possible for contiguous range. 1.Rangifer tarandus caribou subdivided into ecotypes: boreal woodland; migratory woodland; woodland montane; 2. Queen Charlotte Islands (extinct 1907); 3. porcupine; 4. barren-ground; 5. Peary

The barren-ground caribou (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus) is a subspecies of the caribou that is found mainly in the Canadian territories of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, along with Kitaa, Greenland. It sometimes includes the similar porcupine caribou, in which case the barren-ground caribou is also found in Alaska.[1][2] The barren-ground caribou is a medium-sized caribou, smaller and lighter coloured[3] than the boreal woodland caribou, with the females weighing around 90 kg (200 lb) and the males around 150 kg (330 lb). However, on some of the smaller islands, the average weight may be less.

Range and population[edit]

In Canada about fifty percent of all caribou are barren-ground caribou.[3]

They spend much or all of the year on the tundra from Alaska to Baffin Island. Most, or about 1.2 million, of the barren-ground caribou in Canada live in eight large migratory herds, which migrate seasonally from the tundra to the taiga, sparsely treed coniferous forests south of the tundra. In order, from Alaska to Hudson Bay, these are the Porcupine herd, Cape Bathurst herd, Bluenose West herd, Bluenose East herd, Bathurst herd, Ahiak herd, Beverly herd, and Qamanirjuaq herd. About 120 000 other barren-ground caribou live in smaller herds that spend the entire year on the tundra. Half of these are confined to Baffin Island.

— Hinterland Who's Who

Like the Peary caribou, both the males and females have antlers. In general, during the summer, the coat of the caribou is brown, and much lighter in the winter. The neck and rump tends towards a creamy-white colour. However, the general colouration may differ depending on the region.

The barren-ground caribou usually breeds in the fall and calves in June but may not drop their single calf until July. Usually the female gives birth away from the herd and if possible on a patch of snow. After birth, the female licks the calf clean and eats the tissues and the placenta. This may serve two purposes, to replace nutrients lost from birthing and to help remove the scent that would attract predators.

The main food source is lichen but they also feed on Cyperaceae (sedges) and grasses along with twigs and mushrooms. Caribou have also been observed eating antlers and seaweed and licking salt deposits. There is some evidence to suggest that on occasion they also feed on lemmings, Arctic char, and bird eggs.

On the mainland of Canada, the animals may travel in herds of several thousand, but they move in smaller groups (no more than 50) on the islands. They are migratory animals and may travel 1,200 km (750 mi) in a season. Some groups, such as those living on Victoria Island during the summer, migrate to the mainland in the fall after the sea ice has formed. At this time, the smaller groups may form into a larger herd and several hundred animals may be seen. Mainland barren-ground caribou herds move to coastal areas for part of each year, with the exception of the Beverly Herd.[4]

The Beverly Herd (located primarily in Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories; portions in Nunavut, Manitoba, Alberta) and the Qamanirjuaq Herd (located primarily in Manitoba, Nunavut; portions in southeastern NWT, northeastern Saskatchewan) fall under the auspices of the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board.[5] The range of the Beverly herd spans the tundra from northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan and well into the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. In 1994 survey there were 276,000 caribou, an all-time record.[6][7] According to a 2011 survey based on data collected using cutting-edge digital tools and fly-over visual surveillance, there were approximately 124,000 caribou in the Beverly herd and 83,300 in the Ahiak herd. The calving grounds of the Beverly caribou herd are located around Queen Maud Gulf but the herd shifted its traditional birthing area.[8] Ross Thompson, executive director of the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board, explains the low calving rate mainly on habitat deterioration and disturbance with other factors contributing to the low growth rate – parasites, predation and poor weather.[6]

Most of the caribou populations in the north are cycling down. It’s causing a lot of anxiety for a lot of hunters. We want to...give everybody time to work together to come up with solutions for the short term and until the caribou populations recover.

— 2013, Regional biologist Mitch Campbell

John Nagy, University of Alberta's wildlife biologist and researcher, argued that the Beverly herd was robust not declining. He claimed the herd had moved their calving grounds "near the western Queen Maud Gulf coast to the north of the herd’s “traditional” calving ground in the Gary Lakes area north of Baker Lake." He based his findings on data collected from 510 barren-ground caribou tracked with satellite collars in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut from 1993 to 2009.[9]

The barren-ground caribou, one of several subspecies called tuktu in Inuinnaqtun/Inuktitut, and written as ᓇᐹᕐᑐᕐᑲᓐᖏᑦᑐᒥ ᑐᒃᑐ[10] in Inuktitut syllabics, is a major food source for the Inuit, especially the Caribou Inuit bands living in the Kivalliq Region (Barren Lands) of present-day Nunavut.[11]

The major predator of barren-ground caribou is the Arctic wolf. Wolves may follow the herd for many miles. The caribou has poor eyesight and hearing but is capable of outrunning the wolf.

Dolphin-Union Caribou[edit]

The Dolphin-Union Caribou herd locally known as Island Caribou,[12][13] are a migratory population of barren-ground caribou, Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus, that occupy Victoria Island in Canada's High Arctic and the nearby mainland. They are endemic to Canada. They migrate across the Dolphin and Union Strait from their summer grazing on Victoria Island to their winter grazing area on the Nunavut-NWT mainland in Canada.[12][14] It is unusual for North American caribou to seasonally cross sea ice and the only other caribou to do so are the Peary caribou who are smaller in size and population.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Grubb, P. (2005). Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M., eds. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494. 
  2. ^ Cronin, M. A., M. D. Macneil, and J. C. Patton (2005). Variation in Mitochondrial DNA and Microsatellite DNA in caribou (Rangifer tarandus) in North America. Journal of Mammalogy 86(3): 495–505.
  3. ^ a b Kavanagh, Maureen, ed. (2005) [1985], "Hinterland Who's Who", Canadian Wildlife Service/EC, ISBN 0-662-39659-6, archived from the original on 24 December 2013, retrieved 21 December 2013 
  4. ^ "The Beverly Caribou Herd: Continental Wilderness Travellers" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 June 2013. Retrieved 16 January 2008. 
  5. ^ "The caribou herds". Archived from the original on 2012-01-06. Retrieved 2008-01-16. 
  6. ^ a b Varga, Peter (14 March 2013), Beverly caribou decline not as drastic as once feared: new study, retrieved 27 December 2013 
  7. ^ "Another caribou herd in steep decline: study", CBC, 1 December 2008, retrieved 27 December 2013 
  8. ^ "Researchers investigate decline of Beverly caribou herd: Population dropped by half over 20-year period", CBC News, 20 June 2013, retrieved 27 December 2013 
  9. ^ George, Jane (30 November 2011), "Beverly caribou have been on the move, wildlife biologist says: The herd, now calving on the Queen Maud Gulf coast, is "robust" and not near extinction", Nunatsiaq News, retrieved 27 December 2013 
  10. ^ Terrestrial Mammals of Nunavut by Ingrid Anand-Wheeler. ISBN 1-55325-035-4
  11. ^ "Walking on the Land". Retrieved 24 December 2007. 
  12. ^ a b GNWT, Species at Risk in the Northwest Territories 2012 (PDF), Government of Northwest Territories, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, ISBN 978-0-7708-0196-0, retrieved 31 October 2014 
  13. ^ "COSEWIC Assessment and Update Status Report on the Peary Caribou Rangifer tarandus pearyi and Barren-ground Caribou Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus Dolphin and Union population in Canada" (PDF), COSEWIC, May 2004, ISBN 0-662-37375-8, retrieved 1 November 2014 
  14. ^ Poole, Kim G.; Patterson, Brent R.; Dumond, Mathieu (December 2010), "Sea Ice and Migration of the Dolphin and Union Caribou Herd in the Canadian Arctic: An Uncertain Future" (PDF), Arctic, 63 (4): 414–428, doi:10.14430/arctic3331, retrieved 31 October 2014 


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