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Barren-ground Caribou are members of the deer family. In the fall, mature males have a striking white neck and mane and a distinct band along the flank separating the brown back from the white belly.  Their colours are more faded during the winter. The velvet covering their antlers is brown. The national assessment of Barren-ground Caribou as Threatened includes the Porcupine herd but the NWT assessment and listing do not. 

Weight: Females, 85 to 135 kg (187 to 298 lb  Males, 100 to 140 kg (220 to 309 lb)

Report Barren-ground Caribou sightings to

Since time immemorial, Barren-ground Caribou have had immense cultural, spiritual and economic importance to people in the NWT. Barren-ground Caribou is also a keystone species that plays a crucial role in northern ecosystems.

Barren-ground Caribou migrate long distances northwards in the spring to their traditional calving grounds and southwards in the fall to their winter range. They are highly social, gather together to have their calves, and travel in large groups. Barren-ground Caribou give birth in places where they can minimize exposure to predators and maximize nutrition, such as open tundra and high, rocky areas. In summer, they seek areas with high-quality grasses, sedges, shrubs and mushrooms to eat and try to avoid insect harassment. Caribou move around in winter to places where food – primarily lichen – is abundant and snow is shallow.

In the mid-1980s to mid-1990s, most NWT herds were peaking in abundance, but since the late 1990s their numbers have undergone a dramatic decline. Barren-ground Caribou populations naturally undergo large cycles likely driven by climate interacting with food availability, predation and parasites. Current threats to Barren-ground Caribou are acting in addition to these natural cycles and the cumulative effects from multiple threats are unprecedented.

Potential threats in the Northwest Territories include:

  • Climate change impacts on habitat and health.
  • Habitat loss and degradation from resource exploration and development.
  • Roads that increase access for hunting and predation.
  • Increasing frequency and intensity of forest fires that affect the winter range.
  • Predators can have a large impact when caribou numbers are low.
  • Unsustainable harvest could have a large impact but there are measures in place to reduce harvest in response to low numbers.

In 2016, COSEWIC assessed Barren-ground Caribou in Canada as Threatened. COSEWIC's assessment looked at all Canadian herds together, including the Porcupine herd. Information on COSEWIC's assessment can be found here

The NWT Species at Risk Committee (SARC) assessed the territorial status of Barren-ground Caribou in 2017. They assessed Barren-ground Caribou (Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula, Cape Bathurst, Bluenose-West, Bluenose-East, Bathurst, Beverly, Ahiak, and Qamanirjuaq herds) as Threatened in the NWT.  Unlike COSEWIC, SARC considered Porcupine caribou separately as a geographically distinct population. Porcupine caribou were assessed as Not at Risk in the NWT. Barren-ground caribou, not including the Porcupine caribou herd, was listed as Threatened in the NWT under the territorial Species at Risk (NWT) Act in 2018.

There are management plans completed or underway for most of the Barren-ground Caribou herds in the NWT, and an NWT recovery strategy is available here.

Gwich'in Inuvialuit North Slave / Tłı̨chǫ Sahtú South Slave