The answer might surprise you! Here’s the deal with caribou and reindeer:

They’re Technically the Same Species

Believe it or not, caribou and reindeer are actually the same species scientifically classified as Rangifer tarandus. They share the same DNA and basic physical characteristics.

porcupine caribou standing on brown grass field
Photo by Barnabas Davoti on

The Great Geographic Divide

The key difference lies in their location:

  • Caribou: These majestic creatures roam wild across the vast tundra and boreal forests of North America and Greenland.
  • Reindeer: Reindeer are found in Europe, Russia, and parts of Asia. Interestingly, some reindeer populations in these regions have been domesticated for thousands of years.

Wild vs. Domesticated

This geographic distinction often leads to a difference in lifestyle:

  • Caribou: These remain entirely wild, migrating long distances in search of food and mates.
  • Reindeer: While some wild reindeer populations still exist, many have been domesticated and are used for tasks like pulling sleds or providing meat and dairy products. Selective breeding by humans may have resulted in slight variations in appearance between wild and domesticated reindeer compared to caribou.
photograph of reindeers on white snow
Photo by Aleksandr Unikovskiy on

So, the short story? Caribou and reindeer are the same species, but caribou are wild and live in North America, while reindeer can be wild or domesticated and are found in Eurasia.

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