The Caribou is a beautiful and fascinating animal, the size of a small horse. It looks similar to a reindeer, but more robust. The reindeer, also called caribou in North America, is a species of large deer with a wide geographical distribution, naturally resident in tundra, sub-arctic, boreal, and arctic areas of north, south, and mid-west North America. This includes both migratory and sedentary populations. In fact, the term “Caribou” is used interchangeably with reindeer in North American and Canadian speaking countries.
Caribou is distributed in three ecological zones: dry-woods, nearctic, and subarctic. Each zone contains distinct ecological substructure and variation. For example, the southern Caribou has herds that are found only in ice-free tundra. The tundra has very different requirements for grazing than the arctic Caribou does. The arctic Caribou, unlike the other two, needs relatively higher temperatures for summer grazing, although they do spend a good part of the year in arctic areas. However, most of the winter herds are found in calving grounds, waiting for rains.
Caribou is a migratory animal, moving in search of greener pastures during winter. They can be seen from coast to coast on ice bridges and in long strands of ice along riverbanks. They also travel by snowmobile across frozen lakes and riverbanks. During summer months, when there is not enough air for their slow movements, they browse on plant foliage. These browsing habits put them in an excellent position to detect a wide variety of foodstuffs including berries, seeds, fish, insects, and clover.
Caribou’s are social and stable animals. In nature, these animals live in flocks. When they become specialists at dealing with their own kind, they build social networks that include other herdsmen. When these herdsmen survive an epidemic or a serious environmental condition, the rest of the herders may follow them to the same location, helping the infected individuals to find help and fight the common threat. When there is an imbalance of prey to the extent that the ungulates are unable to survive, these social interactions give way to fighting. The Caribou usually fight out against similar sized animals when the latter are stronger.
The Caribou is a highly intelligent creature. It has been compared to the great greyhound of the domestic cat in its intelligence. Their excellent sense of smell is what lets them hunt so successfully in the wild. The large ears of the Caribou allow it to hear anything that would be of interest to its constant movements in all types of weather.
To get close to Caribou, you need a trained guide. It should be someone who has worked extensively with these animals and knows the best ways of approaching them in the right situations. There are many opportunities for people to train and work with wild Caribou in Alaska. You can easily contact a guide who specializes in working with Caribou to help you on your way.