Caribou in the NWT

Peary Caribou

Peary caribou are the smallest of all caribou subspecies.

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.

Peary caribou live on the arctic islands of the NWT and Nunavut. They are usually found in small groups. Their 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 numbers have sometimes declined rapidly in the past, especially during rain on snow events or other harsh climatic events. To obtain food in winter, caribou must dig or paw down to the vegetation under the snow.  This is easier in areas where wind has removed most of the snow, and in years of less snow. Rain in the fall and winter can create ground-fast ice that restricts the ability of the animals to reach food.

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.

Peary caribou are listed as an Endangered species under the federal Species at Risk Act and a Threatened species under the territorial Species at Risk (NWT) Act. A recovery strategy for Peary caribou is being developed in cooperation with local communities, wildlife management boards and federal/territorial governments.