Difference Between Elk and Caribou (With Table)

Animals are a part of the ecosystem. Animals make wildlife-rich and fulfilled. Animals are of many types, depending on what they eat or consume to live a life. Based on that, animals are of four types: Carnivores, herbivores, omnivores and scavengers. Elk and caribou are also a part of the wildlife.

Elk vs Caribou

The main difference between elk and caribou is that only male elk posses’ antlers like those of a reindeer, whereas all male and female caribous’ posses’ antlers. Elks are bulky and heavy, whereas caribous are not so bulky and heavy weighted.

Elks are also known as Wapiti and their scientific name is Cervus Canadensis. It is found in North America and East and Central Asia. Elk are one of the largest species in the deer family of Cervidae. The word wapiti for an Elk means white rump and it originated from the Shawnee and Cree word. The term wapiti for elk is used very popularly in the eastern part of Europe.

On the other hand, Caribou is a reindeer and the term caribou for reindeer is used in the North American continent. It is found in the tundra, native arctic and sub-arctic, glacial, and mountainous parts of northern Europe, North America and Siberia. It is also a type of deer that has a circumpolar distribution. It belongs to the genus Rangifer and is now its only representative animal in the ecosystem.

Comparison Table Between Elk and Caribou

Parameters of ComparisonElkCaribou
Antlers Only present in male elk. Present in male and female Caribou both.
Lifespan8 to 12 years. 12 to 15 years.
WeightMaximum weight can be 850lbs and are heavier. Maximum weight can be only 400lbs.
Sounds producedThey make whistling sounds. They make grunting sounds.
Other common namesThey are also known as Wapiti in North America. They are also known as Reindeer in Europe.

What is Elk?

An elk belongs to the genus Cervus, those were the first to appear in the fossil records during the Oligocene in Eurasia, 25 million years ago. They do not have traces in the North American fossil record. Megaloceros was an Irish elk and did not belong to the Cervus genus. It was the largest member of the Cervidae known from the fossil record.

Elk are vulnerable to infectious diseases, some of which gets transmitted to the critter. Vaccination is the only process through which the diseases in elks can be reduced or eradicated. Some cultures think highly of the elk as holding spiritual meaning. Velvet of elks is used in parts of Asia for use in medicines traditionally. Elk are hunted in the United Kingdom as a game species. Their flesh and meat are thinner and higher in protein than chicken or beef. Elk are among the most sociable deer species.

During the summer season, a group size of elks can reach 400 elks. Female elk have a short oestrus cycle which lasts for 1-2 days. Matings in elks generally entail a lot of attempts. By the end of autumn of the second year, female elks can produce one or, very hard, two offspring.

Elk migrate into areas of higher elevation in the spring season, followed by the withdrawing snows, and migrate in the opposite direction during the fall season. Elk are monogastric, hence they have 4 chambered stomachs. Elk can eat or consume an average of 9.1 kilograms of vegetation or grass daily.

What is Caribou?

The term Caribou was coined by Carl Linnaeus in the Rangifer genus. The woodland caribou subspecies taxonomic name is Rangifer tarandus caribou. Caribou have evolved modifications for optimal metabolic speed during warm as well as cold months. The body composition of a caribou differs greatly with the seasons. In most deer families, only male deer grow antlers; the caribou is the only one from the deer family in which males and females both grow them. Male caribou use their antlers to fight with other male caribous during the mating season.

Caribou have big feet consisting of four toes. In addition, they have two small toes, called “dew claws,” they have two big, half-moon shaped toes that help in supporting most of their weight and act as spades when needed to dig for food under snow. These huge concave-shaped hooves offer firm support on wet and mushy ground.

Caribou hooves adjust according to the seasons: in the summer, the field is soft and wet, the footpads become squeezy and cater extra support. In the winters, the pads contact and screw up, uncovering the rim of the hoof, helping in cutting ice and hard snow to keep them away from falling. The mating time for Caribou is in late September to early November and the gestation period lasts for 228–234 days.

The winning or the dominant male caribous can get as many as 15–20 females to mate. Male caribous live four years lesser than female caribous. They have a lifespan of about 17 years. Dominant males that have larger body sizes and antlers, instil more than one female in the mating season.

Main Differences Between Elk and Caribou

  1. Elk has a lifespan of about 8 to 12 years, whereas Caribou has a lifespan of 12 to 15 years.
  2. Elk are known as Wapiti in the North American continent, whereas Caribou is known as Reindeer in Europe.
  3. Elk are heavier weighing up to 850lbs, whereas Caribou weigh only up to 450 lbs.
  4. Elk only have antlers in males, whereas Caribou have antlers in both males and females.
  5. Elk make whistling sounds, whereas Caribou make a grunting sound.


Elk and Caribou both belong to the deer family with different genus. Elk are very bulky as compared to Caribou, which makes them easy to distinguish. Caribou are very common around the world but are especially found in North America and Europe.

Both the animals are often confused and people consider them similar. Both the animals have distinct differences. Elk and caribou are unique in their way.


  1. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3807915
  2. https://septentrio.uit.no/index.php/rangifer/article/view/322
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