Caribou (North America)

Rangifer tarandus

Caribou refers to any of several North American subspecies, ecotypes, populations, and herds of the species ''Rangifer tarandus''. In North America caribou range in size from the smallest, the Peary caribou, to the largest, the boreal woodland caribou. The North American range of caribou extends from Alaska, through the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, into the boreal forest and south through the Canadian Rockies and the Columbia and Selkirk Mountains. Barren-ground, Porcupine and Peary caribou live in the tundra while the shy Woodland caribou, prefers the boreal forest. Two major subspecies in North America, the ''R. t. granti'' and the ''R. t. groenlandicus'' form large herds and undertake lengthy seasonal migrations from birthing grounds, to summer and winter feeding grounds in the tundra and taiga. The migrations of ''R. t. granti'' Porcupine herds are among the longest of any terrestrial mammal. Barren-land caribou are also found in western Greenland, but the larger herds are in Alaska, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

The circumpolar species itself, ''Rangifer tarandus'', at a global level, is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature "as Least Concern due to a wide circumpolar distribution and presumed large populations." The populations of subspecies, ecotypes, populations and herds of caribou in North America are in decline and one subspecies, the iconic boreal woodland caribou, has been listed by COSEWIC as threatened since 2002.

The George River caribou herd , in the Ungava region of Quebec and Labrador in eastern Canada was once the world's largest herd with 800 000–900 000 animals. By 2012 the herd numbered 27 600 and declined to 14 200 animals in 2014.

The meta-population of the more sedentary subspecies ''R. t. caribou'' or Woodland caribou spans the boreal forest from the Northwest Territories to Labrador. They are shy animals whose main food source is arboreal lichens of the mature forests and mainly live in marshes, bogs, lakes, and river regions. Since it takes hundreds of years for a biomass of tree lichen to be adequate to sustain boreal woodland caribou populations, deforestation is a major factor in the decline of their numbers. The historic range of the boreal woodland caribou covered over half of present-day Canada, stretching from Alaska to Newfoundland and Labrador and as far south as New England, Idaho, and Washington. The smallest subspecies in North America, the Peary Caribou is found in the High and Low Arctic, in the Northwest Territories—particularly, Banks Island and in Nunavut—particularly, Baffin Island.

The caribou is a specialist that is well adapted to cooler climates with hollow-hair fur that covers almost all of its body including its nose, and provides insulation in winter and flotation for swimming. Caribou can reach a speed of 60–80 km/h . Young caribou can already outrun an Olympic sprinter when only a day old. The caribou's favourite winter food is fruticose deer lichen. Seventy percent of the diet of woodland caribou consists of arboreal lichen which take hundreds of years to grow and are therefore only found in mature forests.

Although there are many variations in colour and size, ''Canadian Geographic'' magazine states that in general, barren-ground caribou have larger antlers than the woodland caribou subspecies. Barren-ground caribou have large distinguishing white patches of fur that extend beyond the neck onto the back, a white muzzle and a face that is darker than the rest of the body. Their fur is sandy-beige in winter and light brown in summer. The woodland caribou have a wider more compact body and wider antlers. The coat is a rich dark brown in summer and dark grey in winter. Both the barren-ground and woodland caribou often have white "socks" above their hooves. On average the male weighs 90–110 kg and measures 0.9–1.7 m in shoulder height. The Woodland caribou are the largest and the Peary caribou the smallest. The largest Alaskan male Porcupine caribou can weigh as much as 310 kilograms .

Female caribou can live up to 17 years and male caribou for four years less.

Both sexes grow antlers, though in a some Woodland caribou populations, females lack antlers completely. Antlers are larger in males.

Caribou are an integral part of First Nations and Inuit oral histories and legends including the Gwich'in creation story of how Gwich’in people and the caribou separated from a single entity.
Reindeer in the taiga Reindeer in gorgeous forest twilight, courtesy of @Henrik Just Forest,Rangifer tarandus,Reindeer,Sweden

Naming

Further information: Reindeer

The name ''caribou'' comes, through the French, from the Mi'kmaq ''xalibu'' or ''Qalipu'' meaning "the one who paws". Marc Lescarbot in his publication in French used the term "caribou." Silas Tertius Rand translated the Mi'kmaq word ''Kaleboo'' as caribou in his Mi'kmaq-English. The Gwich’in people have over two dozen distinct caribou-related words. In Inuktitut, spoken in the eastern Arctic, the caribou is known by the name ''tuktu''.

With its range across North America and depth of history, ''Rangifer tarandus'' has countless aboriginal names. The nomadic Naskapi people followed George River Caribou Herd. "By the late 1940s, the pressures of the fur trade, high rates of mortality and debilitation from diseases communicated by Europeans, and the effects of the virtual disappearance of the herd reduced the Naskapi to a state where their very survival was threatened."The canonical ''Mammal Species of the World'' recognized fourteen subspecies of ''Rangifer tarandus'' globally. Two of these subspecies are only in North America—Grant’s caribou and Peary caribou. Barren-land caribou are found in western Greenland, but the larger herds are in Alaska, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.







The table above includes ''R. tarandus caboti'' , ''R. tarandus osborni'' and ''R. tarandus terraenovae'' . Based on Banfield's review in 1961,''R. tarandus caboti'' , ''R. tarandus osborni'' and ''R. tarandus terraenovae'' were considered invalid and included in ''R. tarandus caribou''. However, more recent authorities have considered them all valid, even suggesting that they are quite distinct. An analysis of mtDNA in 2005 found differences between the caribou from Newfoundland, Labrador, south-western Canada and south-eastern Canada, but maintained all in ''R. t. caribou''.

Some of the species ''Rangifer tarandus'' and subspecies may be further divided by ecotype depending on several behavioural factors - predominant habitat use , woodland , woodland , spacing and migration .
Icelandic reindeer East Iceland has a small herd of about 2500–3000 animals. Reindeer were introduced to Iceland in the late 1700s.  The Icelandic reindeer population in July 2013 was estimated at approximately 6000.  Geotagged,Iceland,Rangifer tarandus,Reindeer,Spring

Distribution

Originally, caribou range spanned the northern conterminous USA from Washington to Maine. In the 19th century, it was apparently still present in southern Idaho. During the late Pleistocene era, reindeer were found as far south as Nevada and Tennessee in North America.

According to the Grubb, ''Rangifer tarandus'' is "circumboreal in the tundra and taiga" from "Alaska and Canada including most Arctic islands, and USA .
Waiting for Santa In a small herd it was searching for a good spot to eat. 
The grass was dull and sandy, so it kept searching.. France,Geotagged,Rangifer tarandus,Reindeer

Status

Ongoing human development of caribou habitat has caused populations of Woodland caribou to disappear from their original southern range. In particular, the caribou was extirpated in many areas of eastern North America in the beginning of the 20th century. Woodland caribou was designated as threatened in 2002. Environment Canada reported in 2011 that there were approximately 34 000 boreal caribou in 51 ranges remaining in Canada . Professor Marco Musiani of the University of Calgary, said in a statement that "The woodland caribou is already an endangered species in southern Canada and the United States....[The] warming of the planet means the disappearance of their critical habitat in these regions. Caribou need undisturbed lichen-rich environments and these types of habitats are disappearing."

Woodland caribou have disappeared from most of their original southern range and was designated as threatened in 2002 by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada . Environment Canada reported in 2011 that there were approximately 34 000 boreal caribou in 51 ranges remaining in Canada.. "According to Geist, the "woodland caribou is highly endangered throughout its distribution right into Ontario."

In 2002 the Atlantic-Gaspésie population of the Woodland caribou was designated as endangered by COSEWIC. The small isolated population of 200 animals was at risk from predation and habitat loss.

In 1991 COSEWIC assigned "endangered status" to the Banks Island and High Arctic populations of Peary caribou. The Low Arctic population of Peary caribou was designated as threatened. By 2004 all three were designated as "endangered." In spite of voluntary hunting quotas—for example in Sachs Harbour—This caribou is a Canadian endemic subspecies.

Numbers have declined by about 72% over the last three generations, mostly because of catastrophic die-off likely related to severe icing episodes. The ice covers the vegetation and caribou starve. Voluntary restrictions on hunting by local people are in place, but have not stopped population declines. Because of the continuing decline and expected changes in long-term weather patterns, this subspecies is at imminent risk of extinction.—COSEWIC 2004


According to IUCN ''Rangifer tarandus'' as a species is not endangered because of its overall large population and the widespread range. However, in North America subspecies ''R. t. dawsoni'' is extinct. ''R. t. pearyi'' is endangered, ''R. t. caribou'' are designated as threatened and some individual populations are endangered. While the subspecies ''R. t. granti'' and ''R. t. groenlandicus'' are not designated as threatened, many individual herds—including some of the largest—are declining and there is much concern at the local level.

''Rangifer tarandus'' is "endangered in Canada in regions such as south-east British Columbia at the Canadian-USA border, along the Columbia, Kootenay and Kootenai rivers and around Kootenay Lake. ''Rangifer tarandus'' is endangered in the United States in Idaho and Washington.

There is strong regional variation in Rangifer herd size, By 2013 many caribou herds in North America had "unusually low numbers" and their winter ranges in particular were smaller than they used to be. Caribou numbers have fluctuated historically, but many herds are in decline across their range. There are many factors contributing to the decline in numbers.
Reindeer in Lofoten Islands Picture taken last summer (June 2014) in Lofoten Islands with a Canon 650D. Weather was bad, rainy and very cold, but I managed to take this picture getting very close to the animals. Reindeers are quiet animals and if you travel by car all along the Country you can see a lot of them, sometimes they even cross the street while you are driving - so take care! Geotagged,Norway,Rangifer tarandus,Reindeer,Winter

Habitat

Originally, caribou range spanned the northern conterminous USA from Washington to Maine. In the 19th century, it was apparently still present in southern Idaho. During the late Pleistocene era, reindeer were found as far south as Nevada and Tennessee in North America.

According to the Grubb, ''Rangifer tarandus'' is "circumboreal in the tundra and taiga" from "Alaska and Canada including most Arctic islands, and USA .
Caribou in Denali National Park, Alaska His fur was patchy because it was summer time.  They like to bend their neck around and use the antlers to tear patches of fur off.  Once all the winter coat is gone, it's about time to grow a new one. Such is life. Alaska,Denali,Geotagged,Summer,United States

Reproduction

Further information: Rut #Cervidae
According to SARA, in their latest compilation on woodland caribou,
"The rut, or mating period, for caribou usually occurs in late September and the first half of October. Caribou cows begin breeding as early as 16 months of age; most breed annually by the time they are 28 months old, typically giving birth to a single calf the following spring . The males may theoretically breed at 18 to 20 months of age, but most probably have no opportunity before their third or fourth year. During the rut, males engage in frequent and furious sparring battles with their antlers. Large males with large antlers do most of the mating. To calve, females travel to isolated, relatively predator-free areas such as islands in lakes, peatlands, lakeshores, or tundra. Group size is lowest during calving and in summer; it increases before the rut and may decline or increase over the winter. Group size at all seasons is larger for forest-tundra caribou than forest-dwelling caribou. Survival rates for calves average between 30% and 50%, but can vary from almost none to 100%. Many factors interact to determine calf survival, including quality and quantity of forage , number of predators, and weather. The potential for very high survival means that it is possible for local populations to increase rapidly when conditions are favourable.


Caribou mate in October and the gestation period is about 228–234 days. In May or June the calves are born. Males live 4 years less than the females whose maximum longevity is about 17 years. Females with a normal body size who have had sufficient summer nutrition, can begin breeding anytime between the ages of one to three years. Dominant males, those with larger body size and antler racks, inseminate more than one doe a season.

To calve, "females travel to isolated, relatively predator-free areas such as islands in lakes, peatlands, lakeshores, or tundra." As females select the habitat for the birth of their calves, they are more wary than males. Dugmore noted that in their seasonal migrations the herd follows a doe for that reason. Newborns weigh on average 6 kg .

As the weather cools in the fall, barren-ground and Porcupine caribou would leave their summer grounds forming large herds and migrate south for the winter. They would start mating when large lakes were frozen over. Just prior to mating, the males of both caribou were in prime condition, fat and ready to battle for mates. Bulls at this time were more aggressive and they were usually alone.
Baby reindeer This baby reindeer was photographed well above the arctic circle in Norway Arctic,Baby,Europe,Norway,Rangifer tarandus,Reindeer

Food

''Rangifer tarandus'' are ruminants, having a four-chambered stomach. They mainly eat lichens in winter, especially reindeer moss—the "only large mammal able to metabolize lichen owing to specialized bacteria and protozoa in their gut." Each ecotype eats a diet based on the surrounding ecology. Mountain caribou eat lichen from trees, for example. They have been known to eat their own fallen antlers, probably for calcium. They also eat the leaves of willows and birches, as well as sedges and grasses.
When you least expect it.. We  had been searching for a caribou sighting all day, during the hike and even during our extended car trip to the campsite. And than suddely it was there. Wow. In black & white as dusk was setting in and high ISO on my 2004 camera was not that good. Maybe you'll like it too. Geotagged,Norway,Rangifer tarandus,Reindeer,caribou

Predators

Predation by wolves, bears, coyotes, cougar, and lynx and over-hunting by people in some areas, contribute to the decline of the populations of woodland caribou. Healthy caribou are faster than their predators including wolves. Wolverines—who are themselves a threatened species in some parts of Canada— can kill adult caribou. Bears prey on caribou but are most likely to attack weaker animals, such as calves and sick deer. As carrion, caribou are fed on opportunistically by foxes, ravens and hawks.
Caribou (Rangifer tarandus)  Animal,Artiodactyla,Capreolinae,Caribou,Caribou (North America),Cervidae,Deer,Even-toed ungulate,Geotagged,Mammal,Nature,New World Deer,Rangifer,Rangifer tarandus,Reindeer,United States,Vertebrate,Zoo

Migration

Some populations of the North American caribou, for example, many herds in the subspecies, the barren-ground caribou, and some woodland caribou in Ungava and Labrador, migrate the farthest of any terrestrial mammal, travelling up to 5,000 km a year, and covering1,000,000 km2 . Other North American populations, the woodland caribou for example, are largely sedentary. Smaller herds and island herds like ''R. t. pearsoni'' make the shortest migrations least.

Normally travelling about 19–55 km a day while migrating, the caribou can run at speeds of 60–80 km/h . Young caribou can already outrun an Olympic sprinter when only a day old. During the spring migration smaller herds will group together to form larger herds of 50 000 to 500 000 animals. During autumn migrations groups become smaller and they begin to mate. During the winter, migratory herds travel to winter feeding grounds along coastlines in the tundra above the tree line. Below the tree line they shift to the forest for winter feeding. By spring, groups leave their winter grounds to go to the calving grounds. A caribou can swim easily and quickly, normally at6.5 km/h but if necessary at 10 km/h , and migrating herds will not hesitate to swim across a large lake or broad river.
Reindeer portrait in Antwerpen zoo  Antwerpen,Rangifer tarandus,Reindeer

Evolution

The species taxonomic name ''Rangifer tarandus'' was defined by Carl Linnaeus in 1758. The subspecies taxonomic name, ''Rangifer tarandus caribou'' was defined by Gmelin in 1788.

According to the then-Canadian Wildlife Service Chief Mammologist, Frank Banfield, in his often-cited ''A Revision of the Reindeer and Caribou, Genus Rangifer'' , ''R. t. caboti'' , ''R. t. osborni'' and ''R. t. terraenovae'' were considered invalid and included in ''R. t. caribou''.

Some recent authorities have considered them all valid, even suggesting that they are quite distinct. In their book entitled ''Mammal Species of the World'', American zoologist Don E. Wilson and DeeAnn Reeder agree with Valerius Geist, specialist on large North American mammals, that this range actually includes several subspecies.

Geist argued that the "true woodland caribou, the uniformly dark, small-manned type with the frontally emphasized, flat-beamed antlers", which is "scattered thinly along the southern rim of North American caribou distribution" has been incorrectly classified. He affirms that "true woodland caribou is very rare, in very great difficulties and requires the most urgent of attention."

In 2005, an analysis of mtDNA found differences between the caribou from Newfoundland, Labrador, south-western Canada and south-eastern Canada, but maintained all in ''R. t caribou''.

Mallory and Hillis argued that, "Although the taxonomic designations reflect evolutionary events, they do not appear to reflect current ecological conditions. In numerous instances, populations of the same subspecies have evolved different demographic and behavioural adaptations, while populations from separate subspecies have evolved similar demographic and behavioural patterns... "[U]nderstanding ecotype in relation to existing ecological constraints and releases may be more important than the taxonomic relationships between populations."The caribou "evolved in North America and spread to Eurasia where they are known as reindeer." The "glacial-interglacial cycles of the upper Pleistocene had a major influence on the evolution" of ''Rangifer tarandus'' and other Arctic and sub-Arctic species. Much of the Late Pleistocene age was dominated by glaciation . ''Rangifer tarandus'' was isolated in refugia during the last glacial - the Wisconsin in North America—extending approximately from 85,000 BP to 11,000 BP—and the Weishselian. According to research based on mitochondrial DNA, "ancestral populations of ''R. t. caribou'' likely survived the Wisconsin glaciation in separate refugia located south of the continental ice sheet, while other ''Rangifer tarandus'' subspecies"—''R. t. groenlandicus'' and ''R. t. granti''—"survived north of the ice sheet." Newfoundland caribou are most closely related to other woodland caribou from Labrador, Quebec, and Alberta rather than barren-ground caribou from northern Canada and Alaska.

References:

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