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Are Caribou and Reindeer the Same?

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Are Caribou and Reindeer the Same?
December 4, 2023

Reindeer tend to steal the spotlight in December, but it’s their close relative, the caribou, that turns heads at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park. But what exactly is the difference between the two (besides one being Santa’s favorite)?

caribou in forest

What’s the difference?

Scientifically speaking, reindeer and caribou are the same genus and species – Rangifer tarandus. But they are different sub-species – tarandus (reindeer) and granti (caribou). What the animal is called can depend on their origin and domestication.

The word reindeer refers to domesticated animals. Both reindeer and caribou can be found in Alaska but have different lifestyles. Reindeer were brought in from Europe and have been domesticated by people. In contrast, their wild counterparts are caribou and have never been domesticated. There are several subspecies of wild caribou, and they are native to Alaska, Canada, and other parts of the Pacific Northwest.

Caribou & Reindeer Fun Facts

  1. Males and females have antlers.
  2. They are the only deer species to have hair covering their nose.
  3. They can’t fly, but they are excellent swimmers.
  4. Caribou cover incredible distances during migration – some of the longest on the planet!
  5. Domestic reindeer are considered livestock.

Where Can You See Caribou?

At Northwest Trek’s Free-Roaming Area! Caribou have access to the 435-acre woodland area with lakes. They also have a special-access area – in case they want to avoid the elk during rut (mating) season.

During rut season, elk can become more aggressive, and caribou prefer to keep their distance. At around 4-5 feet in height, caribou are smaller than our elk and moose but larger than the black-tailed deer.

See how many of the caribou you can spot!