It's wintertime in Torngat Mountains National Park in Labrador. The Torngat Wildlife, Plants, and Fisheries Secretariat work with Parks Canada and other partners to prepare for a 35-day remote survey of the Torngat Mountains Caribou herd. By the end of the field season, the crew will have surveyed 1,034 caribou over 145 hours across 16,000 km.

The winter population survey of the Torngat Mountains Caribou in Labrador.

Two helicopters carrying goods and supplies land at a wintry, remote base camp.

Landing at the remote basecamp in Torngat Mountains National Park. Photo: Max Godin

An aerial view of the wintry base camp with some structures half covered in snow drifts.

The remote survey basecamp. Photo: Meredith Purcell

A passenger in a helicopter observes the snow covered mountainous landscape below.

The Torngat Mountains Caribou survey crew. Photo: Max Godin

A person in a helicopter over snowy mountains holds a camera to their face as they watch below.

Taking photos while surveying for the Torngat Mountains Caribou herd. Photo: Max Godin

A lot of collaboration—and resources—are needed to study these largely at-risk animals. Recovering caribou in Canada remains a priority for Parks Canada, both inside and outside of park borders.

“Caribou are an important species. Many Indigenous communities have a very long history with caribou. They hold deep social, spiritual and cultural ties with these animals. Caribou are also symbolic of Canada’s large and intact northern landscapes.”

Dr. Tom Knight
Project Manager, Caribou, Western Newfoundland and Labrador Field Unit.

Photo: Meredith Purcell

Where the caribou roam

There is one place that people can often see caribou… on the Canadian 25¢ coin! But in nature, the iconic caribou are rarely seen. They prefer undisturbed, colder habitats.

A close up of a caribou walking along a beach ridge.
An Eastern Migratory Caribou from Wapusk National Park in Manitoba. Photo: Russell Turner/Parks Canada

View larger image

A map showing the habitat range of caribou populations across Canada, along with places administered by Parks Canada. Labeled sites indicate those with caribou presence.

Map description

Each caribou population is numbered from 1 to 10 with a unique colour representing the area of that caribou’s habitat range. Dolphin & Union [2] and Barren-ground [3] caribou populations are Barren-ground caribou, while the Eastern Migratory [4], Newfoundland [5], Boreal [6], Northern Mountain [7], Southern Mountain [8], Torngat Mountains [9], and Atlantic-Gaspésie [10] are Woodland Caribou.

Three different caribou populations in Canada can be grouped by their habitat use and migration patterns:

Woodland Caribou choose habitats where they can avoid predators. In most of Canada, they live in mature and old-growth forests. They can also be found in mountainous areas.

Woodland Caribou

Two caribou walk across a grassy valley with evergreen trees and large mountains in the background.
Mountain Caribou at Jasper National Park in Alberta. Photo: Ryan Bray/Parks Canada
A caribou stands in a treed meadow with spring flowers in the foreground.
Mountain Caribou in a spring meadow at Jasper. Photo: Lalenia Neufeld/Parks Canada
A herd of caribou stand along the ridgeline of a hill with a large flat-faced mountain in the background.
Woodland Caribou in Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland. Photo: Tom Knight/Parks Canada.
A close up of a caribou swimming through a bay toward algae covered rocks.
A Torngat Mountains Caribou swims across a bay in Torngat Mountains National Park. Photo: Tom Knight/Parks Canada

Barren-ground Caribou live in arctic tundra environments. Some migrate long distances in large herds to their breeding grounds—they find protection in numbers.

Barren-ground Caribou

A single caribou stands in a rocky tundra landscape.
Caribou at Ukkusiksalik National Park in Nunavut. Photo: L. Narraway/Parks Canada
 A single caribou faces the camera with rolling treed hills in the background, his large antlers outstretched in a gentle curve.
A Porcupine Caribou in Ivvavik National Park in the Yukon. Photo: Jay Frandsen/Parks Canada
One mother caribou with small antlers and her calf with even smaller antlers walk towards the camera in a shrubby tundra landscape.
Porcupine Caribou calf and mother in Ivvavik National Park. Photo: Jay Frandsen/Parks Canada

Peary Caribou are the most northern population of caribou in North America. They are only found in the Northwest Territories (NWT) and Nunavut. They travel in small groups across sea ice and the Arctic tundra.

Peary Caribou

A caribou walks along the shores of a frozen waterbody with a snow capped mountain in the background.
Peary Caribou on Bathurst Island in Nunavut.
Three caribou walk across an arctic tundra landscape toward the camera.
Photos: Morgan Anderson/Parks Canada

Threats to caribou in Canada

While caribou live in some of Canada’s most remote locations, they still face risks that threaten their very survival. Some of these include:

  • habitat loss: roads and pipelines remove mature forests that caribou need. Predators have easier access into caribou habitat. Forestry and fires transform mature forests into young forests that moose and elk prefer.

  • altered predator-prey dynamics: more prey species like moose and elk mean more wolves. More wolves mean greater risk of caribou predation.

  • human disturbance and predator access: winter trail users, like skiers, snowshoers and snowmobilers, can push caribou off their favoured habitats. They can create packed trails that lead predators to caribou habitat. Caribou can also be disturbed by dogs and aircrafts, or be killed by cars on roads.

  • small populations: some populations do not have enough females to sustain their population. Small herds are especially vulnerable to predators, disease, and accidents like avalanches.

  • climate change: warming temperatures can alter snow and ice levels, making it hard for caribou to find important winter food. Climate change is causing more insect outbreaks and wildfires, leading to disturbance and habitat loss.
One mother caribou and her two calves run through an Arctic tundra landscape.
Caribou in Nunavut from the Franklin Expedition. Photo: Thierry Boyer/Parks Canada
A small herd of caribou walk in a line along a trodden path in the snow.
Mealy Mountains Caribou in Akami-Uapishkᵁ-KakKasuak-Mealy Mountains National Park Reserve in Labrador. Photo: Gary Pittman/Parks Canada
A close up of three caribou walking through a grassy area.
Woodland Caribou in Gros Morne National Park. Photo: Tom Knight/Parks Canada

Parks Canada collaborates with others to address these threats through conservation actions. Watch this video from Gros Morne National Park and see the work they’re doing to protect caribou:

Field Notes: Connecting landscapes for Newfoundland Caribou

Text transcript 0:04-0:05 [Tom] Hi, welcome to Gros Morne National Park.
0:05-0:07 My name is Tom Knight.
0:07-0:09 I'm a biologist here with Parks Canada.
0:09-0:10 We’ve got a beautiful, calm morning here
0:10-0:12 in Gros Morne National Park...
0:12-0:16 …heading into the park to do the caribou habitat work.
0:17-0:19 So you can see the beautiful landscape
0:19-0:20 part of Gros Morne National Park in the Lowlands.
0:21-0:22 We can also see in that landscape
0:22-0:25 there's some power lines and roads and the community.
0:25-0:27 And so if you're a caribou, these are all things
0:27-0:28 that are a part of your landscape.
0:29-0:31 This project looks at the cumulative impacts
0:31-0:32 of all of this sort of development,
0:33-0:35 including climate change
0:35-0:36 and other things that happen on the landscape,
0:36-0:38 like forestry and agriculture.
0:38-0:39 How do those impact
0:39-0:41 caribou movement through the landscape?
0:53-0:55 So the Newfoundland Caribou is actually considered
0:55-0:58 its own kind of unique population genetically
0:58-0:59 and in their behavior and whatnot.
0:35-0:36 They are listed as special concern
1:01-1:03 under the Species at Risk Act,
1:03-1:04 which means that
1:04-1:06 they're not near extinction or anything,
1:06-1:08 but that we should be keeping a close eye on them
1:08-1:11 and planning for things like future habitat.
1:13-1:14 You can actually see there's
1:14-1:16 quite a few tracks, some caribou and moose.
1:17-1:18 Gros Morne National Park and
1:18-1:19 all national parks in general,
1:19-1:21 really provide a core habitat.
1:21-1:23 In the summertime,
1:23-1:25 they move into the hills where they have their calves.
1:26-1:26 But these lowlands are really important,
1:26-1:28 in winter time especially,
1:27-1:30 when they come and they can crater down through the snow,
1:30-1:34 and find nutrition and the vegetation they need to survive the winter.
1:35-1:36 So a big part of our project
1:36-1:38 is trying to protect caribou by predicting
1:39-1:41 where they will potentially cross roads
1:41-1:42 and show up on highways.
1:42-1:44 And we can do things like install these signs behind me.
1:45-1:47 The more motorists are aware of these issues,
1:47-1:48 the safer that they can be
1:48-1:49 and the safer it is for the caribou.
1:57-2:00 We're just getting set up here with all the gear.
2:00-2:02 We can take a look here and see
2:02-2:03 what Doug and Rory are up to…
2:03-2:04 [Doug and Rory] Hello!
2:04-2:06 [Doug] So what we're trying to do is
2:07-2:08 get a good understanding of
2:08-2:10 what type of habitats caribou are using.
2:10-2:12 So part of that work
2:12-2:14 is moving on the ground and collecting
2:14-2:16 information on land cover types.
2:16-2:18 We're just getting the drone prepped now for our flight.
2:18-2:20 This camera captures imagery
2:21-2:23 the same as you'd get from a high-altitude satellite.
2:23-2:25 This will allow us to characterize
2:25-2:27 the habitat that the caribou are using.
2:27-2:31 The camera, which Rory has, captures two types of imagery:
2:31-2:32 one is regular picture,
2:32-2:34 but it also captures thermal imagery,
2:34-2:37 which we hope to use to detect animal locations.
2:37-2:39 [Tom] So if you passed over a caribou,
2:39-2:41 then it would actually show up as a thermal image?
2:41-2:43 [Doug] Yeah, that's what we're testing.
2:44-2:46 [Tom] All right, so we’ve got Rory ready
2:46-2:48 to take off with the drone here...
2:49-2:50 And she's lifting off.
2:54-2:57 [Rory] You can see the drone flying in a grid pattern
2:57-2:59 over the study area.
3:00-3:01 [Tom] Okay. So what are we looking at now, Rory?
3:01-3:02 That's interesting.
3:02-3:04 [Rory] So here we're looking down from the drone
3:04-3:07 and we're seeing the caribou habitat.
3:07-3:10 There's a nice mosaic of lichen
3:10-3:12 and different types of mosses.
3:12-3:16 Lichen is one of their main dietary resources.
3:16-3:18 [Tom] So that noise we're hearing is that
3:18-3:19 taking pictures or…
3:19-3:20 [Rory] That's the shutter, yes.
3:20 [Tom] Okay.
3:20-3:22 [Rory] And you can even see here on the side
3:23-3:25 there's the caribou paths.
3:25-3:27 It's rewarding seeing those trails.
3:28-3:29 It means we're in the right spot.
3:29-3:31 [Tom] Yeah. Yeah, for sure.
3:13-3:32 And really, a lot of the theme of this project,
3:32-3:33 the idea of connectivity and
3:33-3:36 caribou being able to move through a landscape safely
3:36-3:37 from one place to another...
3:38-3:40 So just coming out into the bog here,
3:40-3:42 while the drone is doing its thing.
3:42-3:44 Nous allons jeter un œil à certaines des plantes,
3:44-3:45 Just do a close up look.
3:45-3:47 The lichens, the white lichens you see there,
3:47-3:49 they're favorites of caribou during the winter.
3:49-3:53 And you can see it's a mix of sedges, mosses, lots of beautiful colors.
3:53-3:56 Sphagnum moss often turns this bright red.
3:56-3:58 [Rory] It's beeping us and telling us that the drone is.
3:58-3:59 [Tom] Okay.
3:59-4:00 [Rory] finished the flight and it's on its way
4:00-4:02 back to the landing point.
4:06-4:08 [Tom] So we had a couple of successful flights today.
4:09-4:11 This is something that's going to actually help map
4:11-4:14 the caribou habitat across the entire province,
4:14-4:15 across the whole island of Newfoundland.
4:16 Yeah, sure.
4:16-4:18 So what we'll do with that information
4:18-4:21 is take it back to the lab and that'll help
4:21-4:23 paint the picture of what type of habitat
4:23-4:25 caribou are using in this area.

Recovery in action

Caribou don't recognize boundaries like provinces, territories, conservation sites, and even countries. The lands administered by Parks Canada make up only a small part of caribou habitat. That’s why Parks Canada collaborates with many groups to protect and recover caribou. These include local Indigenous knowledge holders, other governments, and stakeholders.

Three adult sized caribou and a calf prance up a green grassy hillside with a larger hillside in the background.
Barren-ground Caribou at Vuntut National Park in the Yukon. Photo: Wayne Lynch/Parks Canada
An aerial shot of a small herd of caribou running through a shrubby landscape.
Woodland Caribou at Akami-Uapishkᵁ-KakKasuak-Mealy Mountains National Park Reserve. Photo: Scott Taylor/Parks Canada
A group of people sit and stand on grass near a waterbody surrounded by mountains as they listen to another talking to the group.
Torngat Mountains National Park is cooperatively managed by Parks Canada and Inuit of Nunatsiavut (Labrador) and Nunavik (Québec).

Breeding a new generation of caribou

Parks Canada is proposing to undertake an innovative caribou conservation breeding program. This program is the first of its kind for caribou in Canada. It aims to rebuild small caribou herds in Jasper National Park in Alberta. Parks Canada is working with others on this, including:

  • Indigenous peoples
  • provincial governments
  • non-governmental organizations
  • academics
  • and other experts

All Canadians have a role to play in this important conservation effort.

A caribou calf faces the camera in a forested grassy area.
Caribou calf at Jasper National Park. Photo: Lalenia Neufeld/Parks Canada

Research and monitoring

Parks Canada researches and monitors caribou with many partners and other organizations. Staff at Nahanni National Park Reserve in the NWT are using DNA from scat to learn how caribou herds are connected.

Two Parks Canada staff processes scat samples on a table with papers, pens, and measuring devices
Parks Canada staff process scat samples to determine genetic overlap of caribou herds.
An aerial view of a vast arctic landscape with caribou dotted along it while grazing.
Barren-ground Caribou at Nahanni National Park Reserve in the Northwest Territories.

While staff at Vuntut National Park in the Yukon are looking at the effects of climate change on caribou habitat.

Porcupine Caribou Summer Range Research at Vuntut National Park

Text transcript

0:00 [Soft Happy Music]

0:01 The Porcupine Caribou herd is one of the largest barren-ground herds in North America with around 218,000 animals.

0:08 Since time immemorial the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation has relied on caribou for survival.

0:15 Most barren-ground caribou herds in Canada are in decline.

0:22 Protecting the herd is important to preserving this species.

0:30 One reason Vuntut National Park was created is to protect caribou habitat.

0:37 The Park is co-managed with Vuntut Gwitchin Government and North Yukon Renewable Resources Council.

0:44 Climate change is expected to affect this area creating challenges for caribou.

0:50 The herd's summer range is above the Arctic Circle.

0:57 This area provides important food sources like leafy shrubs and flowering plants.

1:03 Parks Canada monitors the summer range.

1:10 The goal is to understand how climate change could affect caribou in the future.

1:18 There are 10 monitoring sites in prime caribou habitat.

1:26 These sites are remote and can only be accessed by helicopter.

1:35 Data loggers and trail cameras measure permafrost temperature.

1:42 the length of the snow season

1:49 and the vegetation growing season.

1:55 This information is used to help make decisions that affect caribou.

2:02 Managing the Park relies on Indigenous knowledge and western science.

2:09 So the herd is strong in the face of a changing environment.

2:17 Working together to build a bright future for caribou.

2:22 Like. Comment. Share.

2:26 PC.GC.CA/PARKSINSIDER.

2:30 Special thanks to Marty O’Brien for their collaboration and video footage.

2:35 Parks Canada

2:37 A message from the Government of Canada.

A caribou prances on a pebbly shore with a flat-faced mountain side in the background.
Porcupine Caribou at Ivvavik National Park. Photo: Jay Frandsen/Parks Canada

Parks Canada also conducts aerial surveys to count caribou at Pukaskwa National Park in Ontario. Caribou are monitored at Jasper in Alberta and at Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks in British Columbia using:

  • aerial surveys
  • remote cameras
  • radio collars
  • and scat analysis at Jasper

Reducing harm to caribou

Parks Canada is working to reduce harm to caribou in many ways. We’re making roads safer for caribou—and drivers—at Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland.

Area and trail closures at Jasper, Glacier, and Mount Revelstoke National Park help protect Mountain Caribou from disturbance and predators. Staff use radio collar data and observations to determine closure areas. These sites also implement wildlife flight guidelines to reduce disturbance to caribou.

A green road sign cautions drivers with yellow warnings that caribou are present along this highway.
A road sign warning of caribou crossing at Gros Morne National Park.
A solo cross country skier uses a trodden path that cuts through the forest.
A woman cross country skis down a snowy trail at Jasper National Park. Photo: Ryan Bray/Parks Canada
One caribou stands on a wintry road while another is walking off the road.
Caribou crossing the Alaska Highway in the Yukon

Respecting these rules means you are helping caribou survive.

An aerial shot of four caribou walking on deep snow covered ground through the forest.
Tonquin Caribou in Jasper National Park.

Mapping and protecting habitat

Caribou avoid disturbed habitats in order to dodge predators. Their movements are therefore good indicators of ecosystem health. Caribou are also an umbrella species. This means that protecting their habitat also helps the other plants and animals they live alongside.

A plump bird perches on a snow covered branch that has lichen attached to it.
A Boreal Chickadee in the wintertime.
A large wild cat lies in the snow looking attentively into the distance.
A Lynx in the snow in Boreal forest in Canada.
A herd of caribou graze on partially snow covered ground cover with a snow capped hillside and mountains in the background.
A herd of Woodland Caribou in Gros Morne National Park. Photo: Tom Knight/Parks Canada

Staff at Wapusk National Park in Manitoba are mapping caribou and their habitats with Indigenous and academic partners using remote cameras.

A Parks Canada employee wearing a safety vest kneels on one knee holding up a rod with a trail camera attached on a flat landscape.
Russell Turner from Wapusk National Park installs a remote trail camera to capture footage of wildlife, including caribou.
A single caribou stands in the distance with a mounted trail camera in the foreground.
Photos: Russell Turner/Parks Canada
A caribou is captured on a trail camera. The date, time, temperature, and park name are shown along the top and bottom of the image.
A photo of a caribou was captured using the remote camera.

Tracking the movement of caribou in Newfoundland

Parks Canada and partners have collected collar data to study the movement of the Woodland Caribou in Newfoundland.

Identifying caribou habitat helped create the Main River Waterway Provincial Park—an area just outside of Gros Morne National Park.

A Parks Canada employee is up to his neck in snow as he holds a broken tracking collar up in the air with his gloved hand.
Tom Knight retrieving a caribou tracking collar in Torngat Mountains National Park. Photo: Darroch Whitaker/Parks Canada

Watch the path that a Woodland Caribou takes as it travels inside and outside of the national park boundaries to other nearby natural areas.

 
Transcript

[bird sounds chirping in the background].

Two illustrated caribou, one parent and one calf, stand in forested vegetation. An illustrated map of Canada appears in the background, with a place marker over top of Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland.

A close-up map then shows the boundaries of Gros Morne as well as the boundaries of the Main River Waterway Provincial Park, located about 20 km outside of Gros Morne.

The movement patterns of a caribou over the course of 15 days begins to appear.

First, the caribou track is shown circling the upper reaches of Gros Morne National Park, before moving eastward outside of the park, and eventually into the Main River Waterway.

The caribou then travels inside and outside of the provincially protected park before it returns westward to Gros Morne National Park on day 15.

Movement data for this animation was generously provided by Natural Resources Canada, the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture.