Fisheries and Land Resources

Woodland Caribou

Woodland Caribou
Woodland Caribou

Rangifer tarandus


Native to both Newfoundland and Labrador.


Caribou prefer mostly barren land during the summer months, moving to areas of mixed forests during the colder months.


The caribous range extends from the boreal forests of Newfoundland to British Columbia. The George River Herd moves between the forest and tundra in Quebec and Labrador. This is the largest herd in Canada, numbering at approximately 500,000 caribou.


Caribou are herbivores. Their main food source is lichens, which gives caribou an advantage in the more harsh northern areas of its range where vegetation is scarce. The common "caribou moss" is actually a type of lichen (Cladonia rangiferina), which is a major food for caribou. Caribou also eat vegetation such as grasses, sedges, birch and willow leaves, and mosses.


The wolf is the greatest natural predator of the caribou and, for thousands of years, has been known to follow migrating caribou herds, killing mostly the aged, injured or weak animals. Caribou are also an important food source for Canadians, in particular native communities throughout the north.


About 15 years.


The caribou's body is dark brown, with lighter patches around the neck and rump, and white above each hoof. All males and some females have dark velvety antlers that are flattened and project forward. The males shed their antlers in November or December, after mating, while the females and young may carry their's through the winter months. Caribou have large, concave hooves that are ideal for traveling over snow or soft ground, and for digging in search of snow-covered lichens. The hooves are sharply edged for ice travel and are wide to serve as paddles when swimming.

Breeding Biology

Caribou mate around mid-October and males can have many mates. After a gestation period of about 230 days the calf is born in May/June. The calf is weaned after about two months and joins the herd in the fall migration. Male caribou begin to mate around the age of 1.5 years.

Average weight/measurements

Average weight is (400 lbs)(180 kg) for males; (300 lbs)(135 kg) for females. Height of about (3.5 - 4 ft)(1.05 - 1.2 m). Antlers may spread up to (5 ft)(1.5 m) wide.


  • Caribou are the only genus of the deer family where both sexes are antlered.
  • A caribou is featured on Canada's 25 cent piece.
  • Calves can walk and run within two hours after birth;
  • Caribou go through great trouble to avoid insects. (The Warble Fly lays eggs on a caribou's flank; larvae are hatched and burrow up to the caribou's back, feeding on skin and fat. The Nostril Fly (Nosebots) irritates the caribou's nose and the caribou licks it off. The fly makes its way to the lungs, causing respiratory problems).
  • The Avalon Herd recently experienced a significant reduction due to an outbreak of the Scandinavian brainworm (E. rangiferina). (Parasites of Caribou Brain Worm)
  • Female Avalon Peninsula caribou rarely have antlers. Other Newfoundland herds have approximately 11% of females with antlers.

At Salmonier Nature Park:

  • A portion of the Avalon Herd frequents the back country areas of the Park and on occasion may be viewed with binoculars from the Visitor Centre upper deck.
  • Salmonier Nature Park presently has two caribou on display.
  • A calf is born in captivity in the Park practically every Spring.


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