Rudolph the red-nosed…Caribou?

“Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer
Had a very shiny nose
And if you ever saw it
You would even say it glows…”

We’ve all heard the famous Christmas carol about Rudolph and his “very shiny nose.”

But did you know that Rudolph and the other reindeer who pull Santa’s heavy sleigh are actually Caribou?

One species that circles the arctic

Reindeer is another name for Caribou (Rangifer tarandus). The name Reindeer refers to the European and Asian Caribou that live in northern Scandinavia and Russia.

Caribou can also be found North America. This includes northern Ontario!

Caribou, Moose and White-tailed Deer all belong to the deer family, Cervidae. Our North American Caribou are actually deer with long legs and large hoofs. These features help them move through snowy habitats.

All members of the deer family grow a new set of antlers each year. Usually only males sport antlers, but Caribou are the exception. Both male and female Caribou grow a new set of antlers each year.

Rudolph’s southern family members

Santa’s “Caribou” frequent the North Pole and the Arctic tundra. But Caribou can be found much farther south as well.

In Ontario, they live in the boreal forest region, including Wabakimi Provincial Park and (you guessed it) Woodland Caribou Provincial Park. These “Woodland Caribou” are forest-dwellers and live in coniferous boreal forests.

Woodland Caribou Provincial Park aerial shot of forest and lakes
Woodland Caribou Provincial Park

Caribou have very large feet. They use their hooves to scrape snow and ice away from the food below. Large feet also provide good traction, useful to pull Santa’s heavy sleigh and get it airborne! If you’re at a Christmas event this season and see live reindeer on display, check out how enormous their feet really are.

Rudolph the red-nosed Caribou

Caribou may be well suited to helping Santa make his important deliveries on Christmas Eve. However, they are equally well adapted to living in northern Ontario the other 364 days of the year!