THE CARIBOU is a Stone Age animal because stone carvings, which are among the earliest graphic records of man, show the caribou in its present characteristic form. Caribou live chiefly on the tundra or barren regions of the far North. They are gregarious by nature. In early summer they often occur in small bands of six to a hundred or more, while in late summer or fall they frequently congregate in large herds of 1,000 to 5,000.
Although caribou really are deer and not cattle, the males are usually referred to as "bulls," the females as "cows," and the young as "calves." An average adult male of this species is about the size of a small Jersey cow but has longer legs. The males have wide-spreading antlers which are shed and grown anew each summer. Unlike other species of deer, the females also bear antlers. The males are the first to shed their antlers and they are then at the mercy of the antlered females. The general coloration of both sexes is brown but they have a contrasting whitish neck and rump patch. In color and size, a very young caribou closely resembles the calf of a Jersey cow. In midsummer caribou often seek high, wind swept ridges and snow-filled gulches in order to escape the attacks of biting flies and mosquitoes that are abundant in the lowlands. On such trips the bands frequently are led by some old female, probably because she knows where the best green pastures are located and where safety for the weak young caribou may be found.
Caribou have a keen sense of smell but their eyesight is relatively poor. I have found it possible, by lying flat on the ground, to crawl slowly down a hill right into the midst of a band of grazing caribou when the wind was blowing from them to me and they could not get my scent. Under such circumstances it was always a female, usually one with a young "calf," that first detected my presence.
At present the caribou at Mount McKinley National Park are confronted with several dangers, the most important being the possible introduction of disease and the weakening of the native wild caribou through inbreeding with the smaller and weaker domestic reindeer.
Last Updated: 01-Jul-2010