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Boreal Caribou are members of the deer family. Compared to Barren-ground Caribou, Boreal Caribou are larger and darker, have thicker and broader antlers, and have longer legs and a longer face. Boreal Caribou look the same as Northern Mountain Caribou but have different habitat preferences and behaviour.

Weight: 110 to 210 kg (240 to 460 lb)
Height at shoulder: 1.0 to 1.2 m (3.3 to 4.0 ft)

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Boreal Caribou live throughout the boreal forest of the NWT in small groups and prefer to stay within the forest year-round. During calving, Boreal Caribou females space themselves out throughout the range, often where access is difficult for predators. Boreal Caribou need large areas of intact habitats so they can spread out to avoid predators.

Boreal Caribou use almost all forested areas east of the Mackenzie Mountains. They tend to spend time in mature coniferous forests with plentiful lichens. Ridges, swamps, burned areas and meadows are also important in spring and summer. 

Boreal Caribou are well adapted to their northern environment. Their large, well-insulated hooves prevent sinking when traveling on wetlands and snow and are adapted for digging through snow for food.

Boreal Caribou are sometimes called the "grey ghosts of the forest" because they are secretive and difficult to find, and when disturbed they usually disappear quickly into the forest.

Boreal Caribou populations have declined in most of their range across Canada. In the NWT, the population of Boreal Caribou is estimated to be between 6,000 and 7,000 animals.

Population trends vary across the NWT. Boreal Caribou numbers appear to be stable or increasing in some parts of the territory. However, there is evidence of population decline in the southern part of the NWT where the majority of the territory’s Boreal Caribou occur.

Potential threats in the Northwest Territories include:

  • Habitat disturbance, both human-caused and natural, that leads to more predators on the landscape.
  • Linear features (e.g. seismic lines and roads) that result in increased access by predators and hunters.
  • Climate change impacts on the forest landscape over the next 20-40 years.

The NWT Species at Risk Committee assessed Boreal Caribou as Threatened in the NWT in 2012 and again in 2022. In 2014, Boreal Caribou was listed as Threatened in the NWT under the territorial Species at Risk (NWT) Act and another 10-year term was added in 2023. An NWT recovery strategy for Boreal Caribou is available here. A progress report on implementation (2017-2021) is available here.

COSEWIC assessed Boreal Caribou as Threatened in Canada in 2000, 2002 and 2014. The species was listed as Threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) in 2003. A national recovery strategy and action plan are available on the federal Species at Risk Public Registry. The national recovery strategy identifies critical habitat as a minimum of 65% undisturbed habitat throughout their range.

Five regional range plans for Boreal Caribou in the NWT are being developed to ensure that critical habitat is maintained and protected. Range plans are guided by the NWT Framework for Boreal Caribou Range Planning.

Dehcho Gwich'in Inuvialuit North Slave / Tłı̨chǫ Sahtú South Slave
Progress Reports