Caribou (rangifer caribou), the American reindeer. Richardson observes that there are two well marked permanent varieties of caribou that inhabit the fur countries: one of them, the woodland caribou above indicated, confined to the woody and more southern district, and the other, the barren ground caribou (R. Graenlandicus), retiring to the woods only in the winter, but passing the summer on the coast of the Arctic ocean, or on the barren grounds so often mentioned in his work. There is a large variety in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, having extraordinarily large and heavy horns. It is said by Dr. Gray that the horns of the Newfoundland variety, some of which are preserved in the British museum, greatly resemble those of the Siberian animal; but Pallas remarks that the American species differ from the former in the structure of the hoof, and are absolutely American animals. The color of the caribou of North America is in the summer a rich, glossy, reddish brown, becoming more grizzly, especially about the head, neck, and belly, toward the winter; but it never becomes anything approaching to white.
The antlers of the woodland caribou, on rising from the head, curve backward and then forward in a segment of perhaps the sixth of a circle for about half their length, or somewhat less; then curve backward again, and again forward, making in the upper sweep nearly a semicircle. They have no backward branch or spur whatever, except one short point close to the tip. The main branch of the antlers is cylindrical, much smoother than those of the red deer or wapiti, and at the upper extremity has two, three, or four, but seldom more than two, sharp cylindrical spikes. That, however, which constitutes the main difference between the antlers of this animal and of the tame reindeer, or indeed of any other of the deer tribe, is this: that while on the upper extremities of the horns are rounded spikes, the lower branches are broad palmated surfaces. The lower of these, or brow antler, which is the principal defensive weapon of the animal, curves downward over the eyes, and is several inches in breadth, with many sharp spurs or points round the lower border.
The second, or superior process, which shoots horizontally forward from the point where the two curvatures of the main antler meet, is longer than the lower or brow antler, and looks/as if it were more so than it really is, from the direct line in which it projects, instead of being deflected downward. The forward points of the brow antler, the sur-antler, and the upper tips or extremities of the whole, are as nearly as possible in a right line. The measurement of a medium-sized set of antlers, from Newfoundland, is as follows: extreme width from tip to tip, 1 ft. 4 1/2 in.; length of the exterior curvature, from root to tip, 2 ft. 3 1/2 in.; direct height, 23 in.; girth at the root of the antler, 5 1/2 in.; at the insertion of the upper prong, 4 in.; length of palmated brow antler, 11 in., breadth 8 in., processes 7 in number; length of the sur-antler 12 in., breadth 8 in., processes 3, very strong and sharp. The prongs of the upper extremity are irregular, one antler having three, the other two points. The caribou has a short tail, like that of a hare or rabbit, and entirely different from the long tail of the red deer or wapiti.
The hoofs have an immense spread, owing to the extension of the cleft of the hoof through the cornet, and far up the pastern of the animal, which gives it, when running over soft snow, or, what is worse, over a crusted surface, a support almost equal to that of a snow shoe. The average weight of the woodland caribou is from 250 to 300 lbs., that of the barren ground caribou from 90 to 130. lbs.; those of Spitzbergen and Melville island do not exceed 125 lbs. The length of the R. caribou is 6 ft., with a tail of 6 in.; height at shoulder, 3 1/2 ft. - To the natives of North America the reindeer is known only as an animal of chase, but it is a most important one; there is hardly a part of the animal which is not made available to some useful purpose. Clothing made of the skin is, according to Dr. Richardson, so impervious to the cold that, with the addition of a blanket of the same material, any one so clothed may bivouac on the snow with safety, in the most intense cold of an arctic winter night. The venison, when in high condition, has several inches of fat on the haunches, and is said to equal the venison of the best fallow deer of the English parks.
The geographical range of the caribou is over all the northern parts of America, and abundantly over all the habitable parts of the arctic regions, and neighboring countries, extending to a much lower latitude than the range of the reindeer in the eastern continent, and passing still further south on all the principal mountain chains. The southern limit of the caribou appears to be about the parallel of Quebec, across the whole continent; but the animal is most abundant between lat. 63° and 66° N. It was occasionally found until within a few years in the Adirondack mountains. (See Reindeer).