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December 16, 2020

Reindeer tend to steal the spotlight in December, but this year it’s their close relative, the caribou, that are turning heads at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park. For the first time ever, the caribou are staying out in the park’s 435-acre Free-Roaming Area during the fall and winter months.

In past years, the caribou were separated from the other animals in their own 15-acre forested enclosure during the fall and winter.

“That’s the time of year when rut, also known as breeding season, can cause the larger and stronger elk to be more aggressive,” said Keeper Dave Meadows. “So we’d move the caribou into their own area to protect them.”

caribou in forest
Caribou hanging out in the Free-Roaming Area in December

Keepers have worked hard over the last year to construct a protected feeding area specifically for the caribou, which allows them to have a refuge from the elk if and when they need it. The elk, moose and bison are too big to fit through the chute the caribou walk through to get to that area.

“The caribou are now able to come and go as they please between the two areas,” said Meadows. “They are such mystical animals and it’s so great to be able to have so many of them out in the Free-Roaming Area this time of year for visitors to see.”

For the first time ever, many caribou are remaining out in the Free-Roaming Area at Northwest Trek during the winter

Reindeer or caribou?

Their clopping of hooves and their big heavy antlers have many people mistake caribou for reindeer.  While they are the same species, they are not the same animal. In Europe and Asia, they are called reindeer. The word reindeer often refers to domesticated animals, while caribou refers to the wild populations found here in North America. But, Santa says he loves them all the same!

Woodland caribou are endangered in the United States. Only a few are seen each year south of the Canadian border. At around 4-5 feet in height, they’re smaller than elk and moose, but bigger than the black-tailed deer that also share Northwest Trek’s large Free-Roaming Area.

Spot the caribou

Come see how many of the caribou you can spot! Take a Wild Drive or Keeper Adventure Tour out through the park’s Free-Roaming Area. Our Keeper Adventure Tour Jeep is extra-festive this month, decked out with a big red nose and antlers… sound like a familiar character?!