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Reindeer or Caribou--What's the Difference?

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Everyone’s familiar with reindeer, largely thanks to their association with Christmastime and a certain jolly, white-bearded fellow, and his sleigh. But what about caribou?

Caribou are large members of the deer kind that live in northern North America. Both males and female sport an impressive set of antlers, wide hair-covered hooves for gripping the snow, and a large, hairy nose. If that description sounds rather like how you would describe a reindeer . . . well, that’s because they’re the same species!

That’s right—reindeer and caribou are both Rangifer tarandus. If the animal grazes in a herd in Europe, it’s colloquially called a reindeer. But if the animal is scrapping lichens off a tree in an old-growth forest in North America, it’s referred to as a caribou (unless the caribou is from a domesticated herd—then it’s called a reindeer here in North America). So reindeer and caribou are one and the same.

Of course, there are differences in behavior due to the varying habitat of Northern Europe and the North American arctic and sub-arctic. For example, caribou are famous for their “super-herd” migrations where small herds form massive herds in the spring to follow their food sources. These migrations are among the largest of any land mammal. Reindeer, on the other hand, migrate minimally, tending to stay in the same area throughout the year.

Reindeer are the only deer species to be truly domesticated and they’ve been used for centuries as beasts of burden and for their meat, milk, and hides.

You can “meet” reindeer along with wildlife filmmaker Peter Schriemer in “Wild Winter,” the newest episode of Hike & Seek, a God-glorifying nature program produced by Answers in Genesis, streaming now on Answers TV. This unique program shares the wonders of creation through the proper lens—the Word of God, helping you see the Creator’s handiwork in what he’s made.

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You can enjoy “Wild Winter,” other episodes of Hike & Seek, and over 4,000 other programs, anytime with a subscription to Answers TV. Try a free seven-day trial at Answers.tv.