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Reindeer (Caribou)

Photographer: Alexandre Buisse


Reindeer Range Map (N America, Greenland, N Europe to E Asia)
Reindeer Range Map
(N America, Greenland, N Europe to E Asia)
Latin Name Rangifer tarandus
Conservation Status Least Concern
Location N America, Greenland, N Europe to E Asia
Colour Brown/Grey
Length 1.2 - 2.2 m (4 - 7.25 ft)
Tail 10 - 25 cms (4 - 10 inches)
Weight 120 - 300 Kgs (260 - 660 lbs)
Life Expectancy Up to 15 Yrs (Wild)
Up to 20 Yrs (in Captivity)

Main Characteristics

Reindeer are large deer with a body length between 1.2 and 2.2 m (4 - 7.25 ft), a tail length between 10 and 25 cms (4 - 10 inches) and they weigh between 120 and 300 kgs (260 - 660 lbs).

Their coat is thick and it is brown in colour during the summer and grey during the winter months. Their chest and underside are pale in colour and their rump and tail are coloured white. Both males and females have antlers, those of males are larger and more complex and they usually shed them after the rut, where as females keep theirs until spring.

Reindeer have specialized hooves that adapt according to the season. During summer when the tundra is soft and wet, their footpads become spongy to provide them with extra traction and during the winter months their pads shrink and tighten, which exposes the rim of the hoof enabling them to cut into the ice and snow to prevent them from slipping. They make a clicking noise when they walk and this noise is make by tendons rubbing across a bone in their foot.

Their nose features nasal turbinate bones which increase the surface area within their nostrils. This enables cold air to be warmed by their body heat before it is inhaled into their lungs.

Reindeer are excellent swimmers and when migrating they will not hesitate to swim across a lake or river that is in their path. They can also reach speeds of 80 km/hr (50 mph) if required.


Reindeer are found in the arctic tundra and subarctic forests of northern North America, Greenland, and northern Europe to east Asia.

They live in herds of 10 - 1,000 individuals but sometimes they form large herds containing tens of thousands of individuals. Some populations migrate twice a year traveling up to 1,200 kms (750 miles) each time.


Reindeer mainly feed on grasses, herbs, sedges, mosses, fungi, twigs and lichens. During the winter months they use their hooves to dig down into the snow, an activity known as cratering, to expose a lichen they often feed on known as reindeer moss.


Reindeer breed during October and males fight (rut) to gain control of harems of 5 - 15 females. After a gestation period of 210 - 240 days a single calf is born in May or June. At birth the calf weighs 3 - 12 kgs (6.6 - 26.5 lbs), within 1 hour of being born they are able to follow their mother around and at 1 day old they are capable of reaching fast running speeds.

Calves start to be weaned when they reach 1 month old and they begin to graze. They will occasionally suckle from their mother until the winter when they become fully independent. Reindeer reach sexual maturity at 1 - 3 years of age.


Humans are the main predators of adult Reindeer but calves are also preyed upon by bears and wolves.


Subspecies of Reindeer include:

Woodland Caribou
(Rangifer tarandus caribou)
They are also known as Forest Caribou and they are found in North America.

Finnish Forest Reindeer
(Rangifer tarandus fennicus)
They are found in Karelia and central south Finland.

Porcupine Caribou
(Rangifer tarandus granti)
They are also known as Grants Caribou and are found in Alaska, the Yukon and the north west territories of Canada.

Barren-Ground Caribou
(Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus)
They are found in Nunavut, the north west territories of Canada and in western Greenland.

Peary Caribou
(Rangifer tarandus pearyi)
They are found in the northern islands of the Nunavut, the north west territories of Canada.

Svalbard Reindeer
(Rangifer tarandus platyrhynchus)
They are found on the Svalbard islands of Norway and they are the smallest subspecies of Reindeer.

Mountain Reindeer
(Rangifer tarandus tarandus)
They are also known as Wild Reindeer and they are found in the Arctic tundra of Eurasia.

Queen Charlotte Islands Caribou
(Rangifer tarandus dawsoni)
Conservation Status: Extinct
They were once found on Graham Island, British Columbia, Canada.

Arctic Reindeer
(Rangifer tarandus eogroenlandicus)
Conservation Status: Extinct
They were previously found in eastern Greenland until they became extinct around 1900.

Interesting Facts

Reindeer are also known as:
Caribou (in North America)
Tuttuk (Inuktitut)

A Caribou is featured on one side of a Canadian quarter.

Many European herds of Reindeer are domesticated.

A team of flying Reindeer pull Santa's sleigh at Christmas time, the most famous one of these is Rudolph who has a shiny red nose!

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