Caribou: The Northland's Deer

By Dave Hanks

I saw him coming a half mile away, and so I ran to where I thought our paths would converge. Sure enough, he came right up in front of me and posed for this picture.

A trip to Alaska or northern Canada is incomplete without a Caribou experience. This deer of the north grows a most impressive set of antlers. In fact, it’s the only deer species where both sexes grow them. Research seems to suggest that Caribou bulls that grow the biggest racks are more vigorous and sire daughters that have an increased milking ability. The rack also has a projection on the front that can be used as a snow shovel.

The word caribou sounds like the name Zaliboo. This is the name that the Inuits gave the beast. It means “one who paws the ground”. This they do through the snow in order to reach the moss and lichens upon which they feed. The hooves make a clicking sound as they travel due to a flexible ankle joint.

The massive herds of the far north are America’s version of the great herds of the Serengeti Plains of Africa. They are constantly in migration but may follow a different route year by year. Mosquitoes and other types of flies are extremely numerous in the watery expanses of the far north and plague the Caribou during the summer months. Caribou can be seen resting on patches of snow, which seems to give them some relief from this menace. I have seen animals that are very mangy and run down from mosquito bites. Animals can actually die from exsanguination (loss of blood from bites).

This species has a symbiotic relationship with the Gray Wolf. The wolf culls the herds and keeps the Caribou in a healthy condition. It seems odd that predation can actually keep prey populations at a maximum, but it does.

Both the Barren Ground Caribou and the Forest Caribou are vital elements of our northern wild lands.

(This rack, in the velvet, will grow to a massive size)