Species At Risk

Woodland Caribou

(Rangifer tarandus caribou)
Woodland Caribou
Woodland Caribou occurrences map


Woodland caribou are medium-sized members of the deer family. There are two distinct populations of woodland caribou in Ontario. The forest-dwelling woodland caribou lives in the boreal forest all year. The forest-tundra woodland caribou lives on the tundra during the spring and summer and moves into the boreal forest for the rest of the year. Only the forest-dwelling woodland caribou is listed as a species at risk in Ontario.

Caribou are well-adapted for life in boreal regions. They have thick coats to help them survive cold winters and large rounded hooves that let them dig for food and walk easily on snow and soft ground such as peat lands. Mature caribou usually weigh between 110 and 210 kilograms and reach a shoulder height of between one and 1.2 metres.

Photo Journals

Caribou Photo Journals
Tag along as we learn more about some of Ontario’s most vulnerable species and their habitats.

Caribou Fact Sheet

Caribou Conservation Plan
See the highlights of Ontario’s plan to protect the woodland caribou.

In the Field

Caribou Field Notes
Follow our researchers and the caribou they study.


The forest-dwelling woodland caribou was formerly found throughout most of northern Ontario. Its range has now receded and the species is generally found north of Sioux Lookout, Geraldton and Cochrane with a few isolated populations further south along the shoreline and islands of Lake Superior. Ontario’s forest-dwelling woodland caribou population is estimated to be roughly 5,000.

In the rest of Canada, forest-dwelling woodland caribou are found throughout the boreal forest from Newfoundland and Labrador to the Northwest Territories


Woodland caribou require mature boreal forest habitat to thrive. Disturbances such as forest fires, blow downs from high winds and natural forest regeneration result in a variety of forest conditions across the boreal landscape with areas that are at differing stages of maturity. This variety provides a patchwork of habitats, some of which are suitable for caribou now and others that will become suitable over time. As a result, woodland caribou spend their lives roaming across the landscape to find habitat that supports their needs.


Threats to forest-dwelling woodland caribou include habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation due to human settlement and development activities such as forestry, mining, hydro corridors and roads. Caribou are also at risk from an increase in predation and disease that accompanies such broad habitat changes. Over 40 per cent of caribou range in Ontario has been lost since the late 1800s.

Climate change has the potential to affect woodland caribou in the future by further reducing available habitat and influencing food sources. These changes could also create conditions that are more suitable for moose and deer and as a result increase the number of predators that these new species would attract.


The forest-dwelling woodland caribou is listed as a threatened species under Ontario's Endangered Species Act, 2007 and under the federal Species at Risk Act.

In fall 2009, the Government of Ontario released the most comprehensive caribou recovery plan in Canada, summarizing government action to conserve and recover woodland caribou and their habitat.

Under Ontario’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, non-Aboriginal people have been prohibited from hunting caribou since 1929.

What You Can Do to Help woodland caribou

  • Become involved, learn about recovery and conservation efforts, and report caribou sightings to your local Ministry of Natural Resources office.
  • If you are camping or canoeing in caribou country, avoid setting up camp on islands or peninsulas that may serve as caribou calving sites. Such activities disturb this sensitive species and the smell of food may inadvertently attract predators to calving sites.
  • The Ontario Species at Risk Stewardship Fund supports public involvement in species at risk protection and recovery activities, including those that help caribou.
  • Caribou, wolves, moose and deer exist in a delicate balance and a population increase for moose, deer or wolves can contribute to caribou declines. You can help by reporting your:
    • caribou sightings
    • hunting effort and harvests for moose, deer, and wolves
    • trapping harvests for wolves
    • wolf sighting
  • Report any natural resource related violations such as the killing or harming of any species at risk or their habitat to the Ministry of Natural Resources TIPS line at 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).

Did you know?

Male and female caribou can grow antlers, although male antlers are larger and not all females grow them. This characteristic is unique to caribou, among members of the deer family.

Did you know?

Caribou are excellent swimmers and their hollow hair makes them extremely buoyant. They often flee into the water to escape predators.

Did you know?

Unlike moose and deer, female caribou have only one calf each year. They never have twins or triplets.

The Endangered Species Act

Contact your local ministry office

Often the best source of local information on species at risk is your nearest ministry office. Call with your questions or concerns.