Difference Between Caribou and Reindeer

Both the caribou and the reindeer are considered to be similar animals, with some areas of similarities and dissimilarities between them. When you talk about their differences, one of the prime differences is the domestication of these animals.


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Although caribou happens to be a wild animal, reindeer are domesticated in many homes and farms. After all, the sledge on which Santa Claus travels is pulled by reindeer.

Key Takeaways

  1. Caribou and reindeer are two names for the same species of deer, Rangifer tarandus.
  2. Caribou are found in North America, while reindeer are found in Eurasia.
  3. Caribou are typically larger and have more mass than reindeer.

Caribou vs Reindeer

In North America, “caribou” refers to wild, migratory populations of the species, while “reindeer” describes domesticated animals used for food, transportation, and herding. In Europe and Asia, the term “reindeer” is used for both wild and domesticated populations of the species. Caribou are known for their large antlers, which they use to defend themselves and attract mates.

Caribou vs Reindeer

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Comparison Table

Parameter of ComparisonCaribouReindeer
DefinitionThe caribou is a type of deer that has a circumpolar distribution.The reindeer is quite similar to the caribou and is found in the sub-Artic, Arctic, boreal, tundra, and mountainous regions of Siberia, Northern Europe, and North America.
Fur qualityThe fur quality of a caribou is relatively thin or moderately dense.The fur of a reindeer is thick and dense.
DomesticationA caribou is never domesticated.A reindeer is also seen domesticated in large farms and houses.
SizesThe size of a caribou is usually medium.A reindeer is usually more prominent as compared to a caribou.
Breeding seasonThe breeding season of a caribou starts 4 months later, and the calving takes place in late August.A reindeer’s breeding season is usually 4 months earlier, and the calving takes place in April.
MigrationA caribou can migrate by travelling almost 3000 miles every year.A reindeer can migrate only by travelling short distances.


What is Caribou?

If you have observed the National Geographic channel, you will know that the deer has several species. One such species is the caribou. To be more precise, caribou happens to be more commonly found in North America.

Thus, it can be said that the caribou originated from the mountainous and the arctic regions. Apart from North America, Siberia and northern European countries are some other places where you will find caribou.


What is Reindeer?

Many people refer to the caribou as the reindeer outside the North American region. It is a specific species of deer generally found in the icy regions of the earth, such as the North and the South Poles.

The average herd size of the reindeer, referred to as the Rangifer tarandus, varies based on geographic regions.

If you want to know about the largest herd amongst the various found across the globe, the ones found in Russia are the biggest of the lot. You will find close to 400000 to 1000000 in a herd.

Although the herb found around the George River in Canada was the second-largest, it has shrunk in number today.

If there were between 28000 and 385000 in a herd in the past, the numbers would have fallen to around 9000, as reported by the CBC.

Reindeer found in different regions of the world vary in colour and size. The minor lot is found in Svalbard, and the largest breed is known as the Boreal Woodland caribou.

As far as physical appearances are concerned, most of the different types of reindeer grow antlers.

This is true for both sexes. Even the size of the antlers varies between the subspecies. Most of the males can grow antlers to a size of around 39 inches wide and 53 inches long.

The colour of the fur of a reindeer also varies between the different types. For some types of reindeer, the colour of their fur depends on the season. Those in the North are whiter, and those in the South are darker.

The coat of a reindeer has two layers of fur. First is a dense woolly undercoat, followed by a longer-haired overcoat with hollow and air-filled hair. This helps them to stay warm in cold climates.

reindeer 1

Main Differences Between Caribou and Reindeer

  1. Although most of you may say that the caribou and the reindeer are the same animals named differently in different parts of the world, there are several points of distinction between them.
  2. Although caribou is usually found in the jungle or out in the open in herds and cannot be domesticated, reindeer can be domesticated for different reasons such as food, clothing, and shelter.
  3. The breeding season of a caribou and a reindeer is also different. Reindeer start their breeding season almost four months before the breeding time of the caribou.
  4. Another different aspect between a caribou and a reindeer is their body size. A reindeer will appear much larger than a caribou if you take the average.
  5. The distance travelled by a caribou and a reindeer to migrate is also different. Caribou can easily travel 3000 miles each year to find a green pasture. However, reindeer do not travel much to find a better living place.
Difference Between Caribou and Reindeer
  1. https://septentrio.uit.no/index.php/rangifer/article/view/841
  2. https://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/abs/10.1139/z94-127
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