Still found in the northern portions of North America, Europe and Asia. Caribou, or reindeer, are holarctic deer. Reindeer, caribou or ranifer tarandus remain one of the most culturally significant creatures dating back to mythical stories from the pleistocene. Currently found in Alaska, Canada and along the Canada-U.S. border, including northern Idaho, northeastern Washington and southeastern British Columbia. During historic times, and glaciations; caribou had a much greater southerly distribution ranging from Alaska south to Tennessee and east to Virginia. At the end of the Pleistocene, reindeer followed the shrinking glaciers, and boreal forests, northwards towards the arctic. More recently, caribou could also be found in the northern U.S. from Minnesota to Maine, but they disappeared from these areas during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Caribou are well-adapted to the extreme cold of Arctic environments, and their presence in more southernly deposits from the late Pleistocene serves as a good indicator of colder climates during this time.
Length: females: 1.4-1.9 m (4.6-6.2 ft), males: 1.6-2.1 m (5.2-6.9 ft.); and
Weight: females: 63-94 kg (139-207 lb), males: 81-153 kg (179-337) lb.
Charles Hamilton Smith is credited with the name Rangifer for the reindeer genus in the 1800s. The tarandos name dates back to Aristotle and Theophrastus in Greece.
Reindeer have a thick, wool like undercoat and a stiff overcoat consisting of long, hollow guard hairs to protect them from cold. They have broad, flat, deeply cleft hooves that allow them to travel across boggy ground, snow, ice and water.
In March or April, antlers begin to grow on male and in May or June, female. The process is called antlerogenesis.
Antlers grow very quickly every year on the bulls. And, as they grow, spongy in texture, are covered in thick velvet, filled with blood vessels.
Caribou is the only species of deer in which both the males and females have antlers.
Caribou occupy boreal and sub-boreal forests as well as arctic tundra, and they utilize a range of habitats within these areas. They prefer old-growth and mature forests, particularly those adjacent to wetland and riparian areas. They are also found at high elevation grasslands, alpine and sub-alpine open forests. And, scrub, and barren habitats characterized by large stretches of bare ground. In winter, they favor habitats with shallow snow cover, which allows them to drink and forage through the snow more easily.
Reindeer, or Caribou are herbivores who feed on grasses, sedges, mushrooms and shrubs. During the winter months, when plants are not common, these animals forage primarily on lichens, and moss.
While migrating reindeer travel about 19–55 km (12–34 mi) a day. It can run at speeds of 60–80 km/h (37–50 mph). After one day, young calves can outrun an Olympic sprinter.
Most reindeer/caribou are fairly nomadic animals who travel in large herds, migrate between summer and winter habitats, and frequantly over long distances. Males use there antlers in the fall to joust, and the right to win a mate. In the spring pregnet females establish calving grounds in the open tundra and grassland habitat.
Did you know: reindeer can swim about 6.5 km/h (4.0 mph), and if duressed, even more almost 10 km/h, or (6.2 mph).
Where to find reindeer: past and present
Caribou have been found around terminal pleistocene ice sheets. In north America, some of the areas were: central and eastern Wisconsin (Zelienka Caribou, Oostburg Caribou, and Wauwatosa Caribou), northeast Illinois (Valentine Bog), northern and central Indiana (Kolarik and Christensen Bog), northern Ohio (Sheridan Pit and Huffman Bog) and eastern Michigan (Fowlerville Caribou, Holcombe Beach, and Minden City Caribou).
In Europe and Norway more than 25,000 mountain reindeer are still around Scandanavia.
Russia manages 19 herds of Siberian tundra reindeer that total about 940,000.
The Taimyr herd of Siberian tundra reindeer is the biggest. With an estimated 400,000 and 1,000,000.
In some areas of the world, including Canada. Reindeer have been disappearing.
Relationship with humans
Both arctic and European prehistoric people have deemed the reindeer culturally significant. Northerners depended on caribou for food, clothing, and shelter. And, many prehistoric Europeans cave drew reindeer. Both developed herding or semi-domestication for things such as meat, hides, antlers, milk, and transportation, around or before the bronze age.
In both Alaska and Finland, reindeer sausage is sold in supermarkets and grocery stores. Some countries even sells Caribou as meatballs, and as a popular beer brand in Canada.
As a natural aphrodisiac, nutritional or medicinal supplement, Asians had sought reindeer antlers for centuries.
Indigenous North Americans
Considered important amongst indigenous populations, and especially modernly in the north. There is an aboriginal saying: “The caribou feeds the wolf, but it is the wolf who keeps the caribou strong”.
Many northern European nations have used the reindeer in there coat of arms.
In 53bc, in Commentarii de Bello Gallico (chapter 6.26). Julias Caeser described the reindeer: “There is an ox shaped like a stag. In the middle of its forehead a single horn grows between its ears, taller and straighter than the animal horns with which we are familiar. At the top this horn spreads out like the palm of a hand or the branches of a tree. The females are of the same form as the males, and their horns are the same shape and size.”
Santa Claus and Christmas
In 1823, “A visit from St. Nicholas” was wrote. Around the world, at Christmas and new years, public interest spikes in reindeer peaks.
Believe it or not, golden eagles are one of the most prolific reindeer hunters on calving grounds. Other critters, such as wolverines especially take newborn calves or birthing cows, and although less commonly, even adults. Brown bears and polar bears hunt on reindeer but healthy adult reindeer can usually far outpace a bear. Gray wolf is the most effective natural predator. And, commonly, these (and wolves) groups will work together.
In North America and Eurasia the species has long been an important resource — in many areas the most important resource — for peoples inhabiting the northern boreal forest and tundra regions.” (Banfield 1961:170; Kurtén 1968:170) Ernest S. Burch Jr. (1972). “The Caribou/Wild Reindeer as a Human Resource”. American Antiquity. 37 (3): 339–368. doi:10.2307/278435. JSTOR278435. S2CID161921691.