Barren-ground Caribou

Barren-ground Caribou (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus) are a subspecies of caribou that are found mainly in the Canadian territories Nunavut and the Northwest Territories and western Greenland. They are medium sized caribou with the females 90 kg (198 lb) and the males 150 kg (331 lb). However, on some of the smaller islands, the average weight may be less.

Like the Peary Caribou, both the males and females have antlers. In general, during the summer, the coat of the caribou is brown, and much lighter in the winter. The neck and rump tends towards a creamy-white colour. However, the general colouration may differ depending on the region.

The barren-ground caribou usually breeds in the fall and calves in June but may not drop their single calf until July. Usually the female will give birth away from the herd and if possible on a patch of snow. After birth, the female will lick the calf clean and eat the tissues and the placenta. This may serve two purposes, first to replace nutrients lost from birthing and second to help remove the scent that would attract predators.

The main food source is lichen but they will also feed on Cyperaceae (sedges) and other grasses along with twigs and mushrooms. Caribou have also been observed to eat antlers, seaweed and will lick salt deposits. There is some evidence to suggest that on occasion they will also feed on lemmings, arctic char and bird eggs.

On the mainland of Canada, the animals may travel in herds of several thousand but on the islands, they move in smaller groups (no more than 50). They are migratory animals and may travel 1,200 km (746 mi) in a season. Some groups, such as those living on Victoria Island during the summer, will migrate to the mainland in the fall time after the sea ice has formed. At this time, the smaller groups may form into a larger herd and several hundred animals may be seen. Mainland barren-ground caribou herds move to coastal areas for part of each year, with the exception of the Beverly Herd. The Beverly Herd (located primarily in Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories; portions in Nunavut, Manitoba, Alberta) and the Qamanirjuaq Herd (located primarily in Manitoba, Nunavut; portions in southeastern NWT, northeastern Saskatchewan) fall under the auspices of the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board.

The barren-ground caribou, called tuktu in Inuinnaqtun/Inuktitut, and written as ᓇᐹᕐᑐᕐᑲᓐᖏᑦᑐᒥ ᑐᒃᑐ in Inuktitut syllabics, is a major food source for the Inuit, especially the Caribou Inuit bands living in the Kivalliq Region (Barren Lands) of present-day Nunavut.

The major predator of Barren-ground caribou is the arctic wolf who may follow the herd for many miles. The caribou has poor eyesight and hearing but is capable of outrunning the wolf.


  • NatureServe
  • Terrestrial Mammals of Nunavut by Ingrid Anand-Wheeler. ISBN 1-55325-035-4

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