by Dave Hanks
We all are familiar with the caribou that migrate over the vast northern spaces. This animal is the Barren Ground Caribou. But, are you aware that there is another type – the Woodland Caribou? This beast is found in small groups in forested habitat. It does not make the long migration, like their counterpart, staying in an approximate 50 mile area of winter foothills and alpine summer ranges.
Woodland Caribou are about 4 feet at the shoulder, 6 feet long, and weigh up to 700 pounds. In the wild, they usually live from 10 to 15 years. Longer life-spans would occur if domesticated (like reindeer, which are actually caribou). They have heavily muscled bodies, skinny legs, and strong hooves that balloon to dinner-plate size in winter. Big feet have a snowshoe effect that facilitates movement over snow. Both sexes grow antlers, but the cow’s are shorter and have fewer points.
Ground and tree lichens are their major food source which restricts them to a forested habitat. They will also eat willows, shrubs, and grass. It takes 80 to 150 years for woodlands to produce enough lichens to support a group of these deer. Mature forests are essential for their survival. As a result, the Canadian government has listed them as an endangered species. Today, there are fewer than 7000 individuals.
Caribou mate in early to mid-October and calve in early June. The females don’t mature sexually until two and a half years and will have one calf a year thereafter.
Woodland Caribou can still be seen in Banff and Jasper Parks, and on Alberta’s forested foothills.