Caribou Atlantic-Gaspésie population
Scientific Name: Rangifer tarandus
Other/Previous Names: Woodland Caribou (Atlantic-Gaspésie population)
Taxonomy Group: Mammals
Last COSEWIC Assessment: November 2014
Last COSEWIC Designation: Endangered
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered
Image of Caribou
There is some uncertainty about how different groups of caribou are related to each other. Technological advances in genetic analysis have clarified some issues, but studies are ongoing. In the meantime, caribou are classified by ecotype (where they occur and how they behave) for their management and conservation. There are three major types of caribou in Canada: Peary, Barren-ground, and Woodland. The Caribou dawsoni subspecies, traditionally grouped with the Woodland Caribou, is extinct. Results of recent research indicate that the caribou in the Dolphin and Union herd are unique. They resemble large Peary Caribou, but appear to be more closely related genetically to Barren-ground Caribou. Peary Caribou, the smallest, lightest-coloured, and least understood of the three races, are found only on the islands of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. They have access to a vast area of land, but only a limited portion contains suitable habitat. Barren-ground Caribou, slightly larger and darker, are found for much or all of the year on the tundra from Alaska to Baffin Island. They are by far the most abundant caribou; some herds in northern Canada number in the hundreds of thousands. They migrate seasonally, often along predictable routes, to the sparsely treed northern coniferous forests. Woodland Caribou, the largest and darkest-coloured, are irregularly distributed throughout our boreal forest and mountains from the island of Newfoundland to British Columbia. They are not migratory, but some herds, especially those in mountainous regions, move to different elevations with the seasons.
Caribou, ancient members of the deer family (Cervidae), are one of Canada’s most widely distributed large mammals. The name caribou is probably a corruption of the Micmac name “xalibu” — which means “the one who paws.” Caribou are unique among Cervids in that both sexes have antlers; however, some females have only one antler or lack them altogether. The antlers grow so rapidly that an adult male may show velvety lumps on his head in March and have a rack more than a metre in length by August. By February, all the caribou have lost their antlers. The Woodland Caribou’s coat is mostly brown in summer (more grey in winter), but the neck, mane, shoulder stripe, underbelly, underside of the tail, and patch just above each hoof are creamy white. The caribou is 1.0 to 1.2 m high at the shoulder, and mature individuals weigh 110 to 210 kg. The average weight for bulls is 180 kg; for cows, it is 135 kg. The antlers of the Woodland Caribou are flattened, complex, and compact relative to those of the Barren-ground Caribou.
Distribution and Population
Woodland Caribou occur in five of the eight National Ecological Areas recognized by COSEWIC, and in all jurisdictions in Canada except Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nunavut. The Northern Mountain population is comprised of 36 local populations in Yukon, Northwest Territories, and northwestern British Columbia. The Southern Mountain population is made up of 26 local populations in British Columbia and 4 in Alberta. The Boreal population covers a huge area from the Mackenzie Mountains in the northwest to southern Labrador in the east and as far south as Lake Superior. In Newfoundland, the Woodland Caribou can be found in 15 natural and 22 introduced local populations — both on the main island and on islands offshore. The Atlantic-Gaspésie population in Quebec is the only caribou herd that remains south of the St. Lawrence River. It is largely restricted to the summits of Mont Albert and Mont Jacques-Cartier in Parc de la Gaspésie on the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec. The small, isolated Atlantic-Gaspésie population declined from an estimated 500 to 1000 individuals in the 1950s to about 200 in the 1970s. The population stabilized between 200 and 250 caribou through the 1990s, with an average of 20 to 25 per 100 km2 in 1996. A report from 2001 however, indicates that the population may be declining.
In winter, Woodland Caribou use mature and old-growth coniferous forests that contain large quantities of terrestrial and arboreal (tree-inhabiting) lichens. These forests are generally associated with marshes, bogs, lakes, and rivers. In summer, the caribou occasionally feed in young stands, after fire or logging. The average interval for habitats to return to their pre-fire state ranges from 40 to 80 years in the southern boreal forest in Alberta and Saskatchewan to 200 to 350 years in British Columbia. Studies of the Woodland Caribou Atlantic-Gaspésie population revealed that mature fir and White Spruce cover in the subalpine range was important winter habitat, and that the tundra of Mont Albert and Mont Jacques-Cartier was part of their critical summer habitat.
The caribou is well adapted to its environment. It has a compact body, small ears, and a short tail — even the muzzle is covered in short hairs to protect it from the snow and cold air. The caribou‘s coat consists of a fine crimped under-fur with a thick layer of guard hairs on top. The guard hairs are hollow (like straws), and the air trapped inside acts as insulation to keep in the caribou's body heat. Caribou are excellent swimmers, and the hollow hairs help them to be buoyant in the water as well. Caribou have large feet with four toes. In addition to two small ones, called "dew claws," they have two large, crescent-shaped toes that support most of their weight and serve as shovels when digging for food under snow. These large concave hooves offer stable support on wet, soggy ground and on crusty snow. The pads of the hoof change from a thick, fleshy shape in the summer to become hard and thin in the winter months, reducing the animal’s exposure to the cold ground. Additional winter protection comes from the long hair between the "toes"; it covers the pads so the caribou walks only on the horny rim of the hooves. The rut, or mating period, for caribou usually occurs in late September and the first half of October. Caribou cows begin breeding as early as 16 months of age; most breed annually by the time they are 28 months old, typically giving birth to a single calf the following spring (mid-May to mid-June). The males may theoretically breed at 18 to 20 months of age, but most probably have no opportunity before their third or fourth year. During the rut, males engage in frequent and furious sparring battles with their antlers. Large males with large antlers do most of the mating. To calve, females travel to isolated, relatively predator-free areas such as islands in lakes, peatlands, lakeshores, or tundra. Group size is lowest during calving and in summer; it increases before the rut and may decline or increase over the winter. Group size at all seasons is larger for forest-tundra caribou than forest-dwelling caribou. Survival rates for calves average between 30% and 50%, but can vary from almost none to 100%. Many factors interact to determine calf survival, including quality and quantity of forage (for pregnant females and in the first year of life), number of predators, and weather. The potential for very high survival means that it is possible for local populations to increase rapidly when conditions are favourable. Caribou are grazing animals and feed on whatever plant material is available. Most feeding takes place in the morning and late evening, with periods of rest at midday and midnight. Caribou are the only large mammals that are able to use lichens as a primary source of food. They have specialized bacteria and protozoa in their stomachs that efficiently digest the lichens, allowing them to take advantage of this rich food source that is available during the winter when other foods are scarce. They also have an excellent sense of smell that helps them to locate lichens beneath snow. Caribou are preyed upon by wolves, bears, coyotes, cougar, and lynx, and are hunted by people. Caribou are constantly on the move. As a result, predators and parasites cannot predict where they will be found, and lichen ranges are not overused or trampled.
The Woodland Caribou Atlantic-Gaspésie population is completely isolated from other caribou. Low population numbers make it vulnerable to catastrophic events and inbreeding depression (loss of vigour resulting from mating between closely related individuals). The amount of habitat is limited — when ice and snow conditions are extreme there is nowhere else to go to look for food. This population of Woodland Caribou is also threatened by predation (by coyotes and bears), human disturbance, fire, and climate change.
Federal ProtectionThe Caribou, Atlantic-Gaspésie population, is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.
The Woodland Caribou Atlantic-Gaspésie population is protected by the Quebec Act Respecting Threatened or Vulnerable Species. Under this Act it is prohibited to possess, trade or harm this species or disturb its habitat. This population occurs entirely within Gaspésie Provincial Park.
Provincial and Territorial Protection
Status of Recovery Planning
Recovery Strategies :
Name Gaspésie Woodland Caribou Recovery Plan (2002-2012) (Rangifer tarandus caribou)
Status Final posting on SAR registry
CWS-Quebec Species at Risk Recovery Unit
Unité du rétablissement des espèces en péril du SCF-QC - Chair/Contact -
Phone: 1-855-253-6708 Send Email
PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.
7 record(s) found.
- COSEWIC Status Reports (2 record(s) found.)
- COSEWIC Assessments (1 record(s) found.)
- Response Statements (2 record(s) found.)
- Recovery Strategies (1 record(s) found.)
- COSEWIC Annual Reports (1 record(s) found.)
COSEWIC Status Reports
COSEWIC Annual Reports
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