Scientific Name: Rangifer tarandus
Taxonomy Group: Mammals
Range: Yukon, Northwest Territories, British Columbia
Last COSEWIC Assessment: May 2014
Last COSEWIC Designation: Special Concern
SARA Status: No schedule, No Status
PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.
All the world’s caribou and reindeer belong to a single species, Rangifer tarandus, and are found in arctic and subarctic regions as well as in northern forests. Caribou that occur in the western mountainous region of Canada are largely brown in colour with a white mane. Mature females and males usually weigh 110-150 kg and 160-210 kg, respectively. Both males and females grow antlers, although some females may lack these. A distinctive characteristic is large, rounded hooves that reduce sinking in snow and wetlands and act as shovels when digging for food under snow.
Western mountain caribou have played an important role for Aboriginal peoples as well as for early fur traders and settlers. A majority of the current range is in Canada in the Northern Mountain, Central Mountain and Southern Mountain populations. Northern and Central Mountain Caribou both inhabit shallow snow areas in winter where they forage primarily for terrestrial lichens, but differ in their genetic makeup and evolutionary origin. Southern Mountain Caribou are distinct from other mountain caribou in that they have adapted to living in a deep snow environment where they forage primarily for arboreal lichens in winter.