What’s the Difference Between a Reindeer and a Caribou

4 mins read
reindeer or caribou

The reindeer and the caribou belong to the same species, Rangifer Tarandus. These animals are highly adapted to the cold weather because of their coats and hooves that are designed to withstand cold regions.

These animals are also migratory and are the only type of deer whose females and males have antlers. The antlers of the Caribou grow forward and caribou use these antlers in the winter to dig through the snow in order to find food.

The antlers of the Female reindeer grow larger than female caribou antlers. These animals have concave-shaped hooves that come in handy when traversing on deep snow and when in water act as paddles.

While reindeer and caribou have much in common, they also have differences. The Caribou and Reindeer differ in size. Caribou is bigger than the Reindeer. Caribou is long-legged while the Reindeer is shorter, stouter, and more sedentary. Caribou bulls are bigger than reindeer bulls but Caribou cows generally weigh the same as reindeer cows.

The Caribou travels longer distances between wintering grounds and calving areas than the reindeer when migrating. Some Caribou migrate to more than 4,828 kilometers or 3,000 miles every year.

The reindeer meanwhile travels with its grazing range. Caribou can run as fast as 50 miles per hour or 80 kilometers per hour. A caribou secretes a special scent to warn other caribou about danger.

The other difference is the location. Caribou is located in North America while Reindeer are located in the forest and tundra of Scandinavia and Russia. The reindeer is also found in eastern Siberia, in northern China, and spreads along the subarctic regions of Asia and Europe.

The two animals also differ in their breeding season. The reindeer begins its breeding season about two to four weeks earlier than the caribou. Generally, reindeer calves are born in the latter weeks of April while caribou calves are born in the later weeks of May.

The reindeer and the caribou also differ in the thickness of their fur. The caribou has thinner, less dense fur than the reindeer. The two however have hollow guard hairs that guard them against the cold.

The biggest difference between the two is domestication. Considered one of the oldest domesticated species in the world, the Reindeer is always featured in the media as the means of transportation for Santa Claus. Reindeer, especially in countries like Scandinavia and Russia, have been used for centuries as raw materials for human survival. It has been studied that the reindeer has been first domesticated in Eurasia around 2000 years ago.

These countries have used reindeer as their sources of meat for food, bone for tools and weapons hides for shelter and clothing, and milk. In fact, some have even kept the reindeer as pets. The Caribou which is easily found in North America however has never been domesticated.

The North American Aboriginal people never really bothered to domesticate the Caribou because they felt that there was no need. They later changed their lifestyle to suit the needs of the wild Caribou. The reindeer was later introduced in Alaska and Canada last century and domestication attempts have failed.

  • The Reindeer is smaller in size than the Caribou.
  • The Reindeer is located in Scandinavia and Russia while the Caribou is located in North America.
  • The Reindeer calves are born in April while the caribou calves are born in May.
  • The Reindeer have thicker, denser fur than the Caribou.
  • The Reindeer is domesticated while the Caribou roams in the wild.

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