Caribou in British Columbia


photo © G Beaudry (used with permission)

Caribou are hoofed mammals that are part of the deer family. They are larger than deer but smaller than Elk and moose. Their colouration is usually medium to light brown with shades of gray and white on their rumps and necks. Both males and females grow antlers, with the male’s antlers usually larger than the females. The males lose their antlers in the early winter and the females retain theirs until their calves are born in spring. Caribou feed primarily on lichens during the winter months and a variety of other plants during the spring and summer. Caribou hooves are rounded, which helps them dig through snow to reach lichen and helps enable them to walk on top of the snowpack when feeding on lichen that grows on trees.

All Caribou in British Columbia are classed as Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou).  British Columbia has 52 herds which have been divided into three ecotypes depending on feeding and behaviour. If you are interested in finding out more about the population distribution and status of each caribou herd in British Columbia, please click on each herd range area for associated information on the Caribou distribution by ecotype map [click on the range area of interest - information will be displayed in a new window]. For more information about Caribou in British Columbia please read Caribou in British Columbia (315KB pdf)

Are Caribou at risk? Why?

Certain populations of Woodland Caribou in Canada are listed as threatened under the Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), requiring management actions. In British Columbia, all Mountain and Boreal Caribou herds and 15 of 31 Northern Caribou herds are listed as threatened. Threats to Caribou may vary based on ecotype; however, human activities associated with resource extraction are the ultimate threats to caribou in British Columbia. Human development fragments and alters caribou habitat and creates more browse and young forests. This type of vegetation facilitates the increase in Moose, deer, and Elk, which in turn attracts more predators such as wolves and bears. The increased presence of predators heightens the predation risk to Caribou.  Also, linear corridors such as roads and seismic lines associated with human activities enhance predator movements into caribou habitat.

Conserving Caribou in British Columbia is a priority for the Government. The Ministry of Environment is supporting the management of all three ecotypes to ensure Caribou are enjoyed for future generations. For information regarding various actions the Ministry of Environment is using to support management of Caribou in British Columbia, please click on the ecotype name below.

Mountain Caribou live in the Interior Wet Belt that stretches from the United States border to an area east of Prince George. They are different from other caribou because they live yearround in high elevations and in winter walk on top of the deep snowpack and feed on lichens that grow on trees.

Northern Caribou live in the west central and northern British Columbia. During the winter they dig through the snow and feed on lichens that grow on the ground, They calve in the alpine and normally winter in low elevation pine forests or wind-swept ridges where there is shallow snow. 

Boreal Caribou live in the low elevation muskeg and open forests in northeast British Columbia, north of Ft. St. John.  They live in a small area that is normally around a wetland complex.  Ground lichens are their main winter food.

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