Boreal caribou are a national icon, with their place on the Canadian quarter, but the truth is they’re not doing well.
Increasing pressures from industry and development are putting their homes in Canada’s vast boreal forest at risk. This threatened species deserves our protection not simply because they’re iconic. The truth is, we can’t afford to lose caribou because they’re just plain cool.
Ten cool caribou facts
1. Caribou are vegetarian
Caribou make love not war. Instead of chasing down other animals, caribou busy themselves by eating at least three kilograms of plants each day.
2. Caribou have a double coat
Caribou got in on the smart clothes action long before tech investors. They have a fuzzy layer that sits on their skin and keeps them dry as they traverse all the rivers they need to migrate. They’ve also got an outer layer of hollow hair that is able to trap air in each strand and help insulate them during cold winters.
3. Caribou stomachs have four chambers
Has anyone ever told you their stomach has a separate compartment for dessert? Well, caribou actually do (although they don’t use it for dessert). Their stomachs are separated into four chambers that help them break down food. Food enters in one chamber, gets broken down and ground in the others, and only in the fourth chamber do the nutrients from the food actually start to be absorbed into the blood.
4. Caribou hooves are like snowshoes
Just like the snowshoes humans created to better walk on snow, caribou hooves are naturally proportioned to enable them to travel with less effort. Caribou hooves are large and wide. They have two small toes and two large toes, which grow more fleshy pads on them for protection depending on the season.
5. Caribou are an umbrella species
When it comes to the land and animals around them, caribou have their backs. They’re known as an umbrella species because they help ensure the survival of the boreal forest and the lives it supports. Their foraging and droppings help nourish the soil, they serve as prey for many carnivores that roam the forest and they are a traditional food source for many Indigenous Peoples.
6. Caribou have scent glands on their ankles
Caribou like to help each other out. Whenever they sense danger, the scent glands at the base of their ankles kick into action and emit an odour. From that smell, the rest of the herd becomes alert to the risk.
7. Caribou return to the same place every year to have kids
Caribou can travel up to 4,800 kilometres a year, but they know that home is where the heart is. Every year, barren-ground caribou return to the same calving grounds to give birth.
8. Caribou love the cold
Caribou have been around since the ice age and have evolved to withstand cold winter environments. Their bodies, for instance, are compact, with short tails and ears, to reduce the amount of heat that can escape. Their short muzzles are also able to warm and cool air as they breathe in and out, helping them regulate their body temperatures.
9. Caribou only have one calf per year
Female caribou, called cows, can only have one calf per year. That’s why each one is precious to their mothers — and to the herd’s survival.
10. Both male and female caribou have antlers
Caribou are the only member of the deer family whose females and males grow antlers. Because it’s 2019.