The boreal woodland caribou is native to Canada.
OG 101

5 things you probably don’t know about woodland caribou

Some key facts about Canada’s iconic ungulate, including what’s being done to restore their population.

1. Boreal woodland caribou are almost exclusively native to Canada’s boreal forest.

The boreal woodland caribou is the largest of the caribou subspecies (other subspecies include barren-ground caribou that live in the Arctic and reindeer that live in Europe and Asia). Its scientific name is rangifer tarandus caribou. Their natural habitat is the great boreal forest which stretches across northern Canada from Newfoundland to B.C. Some are also found in Alaska. There are 51 distinct caribou ranges that have been identified across Canada.

2. The caribou is an iconic species with an Indigenous name

The animal on the “tails” side of the traditional Canadian 25 cent coin is a caribou (not a moose). According to Wikipedia, the name “caribou” is probably derived from the Mi’kmaq word xalibo or qalipu meaning “the one who paws”. The word “caribous” was first published in a 1610 history of New France.

3. Woodland caribou are a threatened species.

Woodland caribou populations are listed as “threatened” under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA). Estimates suggest caribou populations across Canada have fallen by 30 per cent in the past 20 years. There are a number of causes including habitat loss and increased predation by wolves and bears.

4. Caribou have low reproduction rates

Female woodland caribou typically don’t produce young until three years of age and then have only one calf per year. As a result, predation of caribou calves has a magnified impact on caribou populations compared with other ungulate species like moose and deer that have higher rates of reproduction.

5. Industry is working to restore caribou habitat

The oil and gas industry recognizes that exploration practices that were common and acceptable 50 years ago, such as the cutting down of trees in long, straight seismic corridors, has had an impact on caribou. Slow regrowth of these seismic lines has made it easier for wolves to move in and hunt in their territory. While exploration practices now use low-impact methods, legacy seismic lines need to be addressed. As a result, companies like Cenovus are working to plant trees and restore forest cover along these lines.

Learn more about how industry is collaborating on solutions for caribou recovery.