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Peary Caribou are the smallest North American caribou. Like Dolphin and Union Caribou, Peary Caribou have a mostly white coat in winter, and are slate-grey with white legs and under-parts in summer. The velvet covering their antlers is grey.

Weight: Males, 70 kg (150 lb). Length: 1.7 m (5.6 ft).

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Peary Caribou live on the arctic islands of the NWT and Nunavut.

Range map information

Peary Caribou are found in small groups on the arctic islands of the NWT and Nunavut. Summer range includes river valley slopes or other moist areas, and upland plains with abundant sedges, willows, grasses and herbs. Winter range includes exposed areas like hilltops and raised beach ridges where the snow is thinner and it is easier to find food.

Peary Caribou need large areas with a variety of habitats, and the ability to move around to different parts of their range. Sea ice crossings are important movement corridors for Peary Caribou to access different parts of their range.

Peary Caribou populations in the NWT declined steeply between the 1960s and the 1990s, likely due to a combination of factors including several years of unusually severe winter and spring weather. Over the last 20 years there have been sustained low numbers; however, there is recent evidence of an increase in numbers on the Queen Elizabeth Islands and Banks Island.

Severe winter and spring weather creates ice layers preventing Peary Caribou from reaching their food. Their small and variable population size makes Peary Caribou vulnerable to these severe icing events.

Another potential threat in the Northwest Territories are Muskoxen, which may influence Peary Caribou populations through competition, avoidance or interactions with predators or parasites. Hunting and predation may have contributed to past population declines. 

A reduction in the extent, thickness, and duration of sea ice from climate change could make it harder for Peary Caribou to move between islands.

Peary caribou previously had a status of Endangered in Canada (since 2004). COSEWIC re-assessed Peary caribou as Threatened in 2015, and the listed status under the federal Species at Risk Act was changed to Threatened in 2023. A national recovery strategy for Peary Caribou is available on the federal Species at Risk Public Registry and includes critical habitat identification.

The NWT Species at Risk Committee assessed Peary Caribou as Threatened in the Northwest Territories in 2012 and again in 2022. In 2014, Peary Caribou were 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 Peary Caribou is being developed.

Inuvialuit have taken a strong leadership role in protecting Peary Caribou, including implementing self-imposed harvest quotas.