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.

Habitat

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.

Population

There are about 50,000 - 55,000 northern mountain caribou in the NWT, Yukon and northern British Columbia. 

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.

Most information on population trends in the NWT is outdated, except for the South Nahanni herd with a stable or possibly increasing population. Populations are generally thought to be stable based on scientific information, however Indigenous knowledge holders in Ross River, Yukon and in the Sahtu and Gwich'in regions have reported population declines or displacement.

Species at risk status

Northern mountain caribou were listed as Special Concern under the federal Species at Risk Act in 2005 and wre assessed as Special Concern in the NWT in 2020. A national management plan for northern mountain caribou was released in 2012.

Management

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.