A caribou sitting in the grass

NPS Photo

Caribou and reindeer are almost identical, sharing the same genus and species name. It wasn't until about 2,000 years ago that they were domesticated in Eurasia became what we know as the modern day reindeer. Originally, caribou natively populated Alaska long before reindeer were introduced from Siberia by a missionary in 1892.

Over a period of about 60 years, Inupiat communities were trained to herd them, through apprenticeship programs. After reaching peak popularity in the 1930s, the practice of reindeer herding has since declined, and today all reindeer on the Seward Peninsula are managed by about 20 herders. The free-ranging herds can occasionally be seen grazing in the coastal areas of the preserve, or throughout the tundra near the villages.

Although they look almost identical, caribou can be identified by having longer legs and leaner bodies than reindeer. Reindeer are typically more sedentary, have thicker fur, and some may have white or patchy markings.

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    Last updated: March 31, 2020

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