The woodland caribou

Cape Breton Highlands National Park

Caribou are members of the deer family and are known as reindeer in other parts of the world. Their woodland range includes arctic tundra, subarctic taiga and boreal softwood forest. Their preferred food is lichens. One individual can eat up to 10 pounds of lichens every day. Males are bigger than females and shed their antlers in early November, whereas females shed them in April or May.


Caribou are now extirpated in Nova Scotia. The caribou were found in Cape Breton until the 1920s. In 1968 and 1969, two groups of caribou from Québec (totalling 51) were re introduced to Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Caribou were last sighted in Cape Breton in 1972 and later searches did not find any evidence of them. Some populations elsewhere in Canada have recently been listed by COSEWIC as threatened.

Reasons for Extirpation

The reasons for the disappearance of caribou in Cape Breton are not known but it has been hypothesized that a brain disease caused by a worm found in the white tailed deer population was responsible. This worm is generally harmless in white tailed deer but has proved fatal for moose and caribou.

This example shows the importance of preventing species from becoming extirpated because re introductions are not always successful or practical.

Date modified :