US Fish & Wildlife Service



Date of this Version



Published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1-2, (1998)


Caribou are the largest members of the reindeer family (Rangifer tarandus) and are native to the arctic and sub-arctic regions of Siberia, North America and Greenland. Reindeer, which are traditionally herded in northern Europe and Eurasia, were introduced into Alaska in 1892. Although some herding of reindeer continues in Alaska today, many of the introduced reindeer interbred with caribou. The four caribou subspecies—barren ground, Peary’s, tundra and woodland—differ greatly in range, size, coloration, behavior, food habits and habitat use.

Caribou are a medium-sized member of the deer family and stand about 31⁄2 feet tall at the shoulder. Females (cows) can weigh up to 300 pounds, while large males (bulls) are about twice that size. Most caribou are medium-brown or gray, but coloration varies widely from nearly black to almost white. Their winter coat is somewhat lighter than their summer coat.

Caribou are the only deer species in which both males and females have antlers. Their antlers, which are shed every year, have a long, sweeping main beam up to five feet wide. Each side has one or two tines, or branches, and each tine may have several points. The larger racks of caribou bulls are considered trophies by big-game hunters.