In both fable and fact, caribou — or reindeer, as they are known when domesticated — are renowned for their long-distance travels.
In Christmas lore, an intrepid team of these hooved animals pulls Santa Claus and his sleigh full of presents around the world in a single night. In real life, caribou can cover hundreds or thousands of miles along their annual migration routes, in search of lichens, moss, shrubs and grasses to eat.
For caribou, survival in the harsh Arctic, where the ecosystem is fragile and plant growth slow, requires this almost constant movement. The food and habitat resources of the Arctic ecosystem on which caribou depend are easily destroyed by human disturbance. Unfortunately, such disturbances are widespread and include oil and gas exploration, roads and infrastructure, and, increasingly, the impacts of a changing climate.
With the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge now threatened by oil and gas development, Defenders is working to protect this vital landscape for the caribou, polar bears, ringed and bearded seals, wolves, muskoxen, arctic foxes and hundreds of bird species that depend on it.
Defenders is engaged in all administrative planning processes regarding drilling and seismic testing, while galvanizing public support in Alaska and the rest of the country for legislation that would permanently prohibit development in the refuge.
We’re committed to preventing development that will harm this fragile ecosystem and are working with the administration and on Capitol Hill to protect the refuge and make sure our decision-makers fully understand how unique and valuable the Arctic Refuge is intact.
Besides drilling and development in the caribou’s habitat, climate change is causing ice storms that glaze over tundra vegetation; more frequent fires that kill lichens; early peaking of best spring forage before the herd arrives in the refuge to breed; and increases in mosquitoes significant enough to interfere with feeding.
Endangered Species Act
IUCN Red List
Reduce your emissions to help mitigate warming temperatures in the Arctic. Speak out against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and support wildlife refuge protections.
Each year these caribou undertake an epic journey from their breeding range in the Arctic tundra and the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to their wintering grounds south in the boreal forests. At over one thousand miles, this is one of the biggest large-mammal land migrations on Earth.
There are two herds in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Porcupine Herd has about 218,000 animals and the smaller Central Arctic herd has about 22,000.
Caribou are the only deer species in which both sexes grow antlers. Every year they shed their antlers and the next year they grow new ones!
Calving happens on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the spring and when calves are born they are highly vulnerable to predation.
Mating Season: Early to mid-October
Gestation: October to early June
Number of offspring: 1 calf
Caribou feed on grasses, sedges, lichens and mushrooms.