Caribou in the NWT

Northern Mountain Caribou

What are northern mountain caribou?

Northern mountain caribou are a distinct population of woodland caribou. They are the largest subspecies of caribou in the Northwest Territories (NWT).

Males weigh an average of 150 kg and can reach 1.2 m high at the shoulder. Their brown summer coat turns greyish in winter. In all seasons their neck, mane, underbelly, rump and a patch above each hoof are creamy white. Antlers of woodland caribou are thicker and broader compared to those of barren-ground caribou.

Northern mountain caribou are similar to boreal caribou, the other population of woodland caribou found in the NWT, but have different habitat preferences and behaviour.


Northern mountain caribou live in the Mackenzie Mountains. Many are migratory and they sometimes gather into large groups.

Northern mountain caribou have distinct migrations in elevation, where they move up or down in response to changes in food quality and availability, and in season between summering and wintering areas. Seasonal migrations may involve groups of thousands of animals.

There is also a non-migratory or sedentary group of northern mountain caribou living in the Sahtu region of the Mackenzie Mountains.


There are about 45,000 adult caribou within the range of northern mountain caribou in the NWT, Yukon and northern British Columbia. They are divided into about 39 herds.

The northern mountain caribou herds in the NWT are the Bonnet Plume at about 5,000 animals; the Redstone with at least 10,000 animals; and the Nahanni Complex, including Coal River, La Biche and South Nahanni, with about 3,000 animals.

Population trends for the Bonnet Plume, Redstone and South Nahanni are believed to be stable. Trends for Coal River and La Biche are unknown.

Species at risk status

Northern mountain caribou were listed as Special Concern under the federal Species at Risk Act in 2005. A national management plan for northern mountain caribou was released in 2012.


A harvest management system helps protect northern mountain caribou in the NWT. NWT residents can harvest one woodland caribou a year, either a boreal or northern mountain caribou.

Non-residents can also harvest northern mountain caribou with an outfitter. There is no limit or closed season for Aboriginal harvest of northern mountain caribou. The northern mountain caribou range within Nahanni and Naats’ihch’oh National Park Reserves is protected.