Species Profile

Peary Caribou

Scientific Name: Rangifer tarandus pearyi
Taxonomy Group: Mammals
COSEWIC Range: Northwest Territories, Nunavut
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: November 2015
COSEWIC Status: Threatened
COSEWIC Status Criteria: A2a
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: This subspecies of caribou is endemic to the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, living on the edge of plant growth in polar desert and arctic tundra environments. The current population is estimated at 13,200 mature individuals. From a population high of 22,000 in 1987, the species experienced a catastrophic die-off in the mid-1990s related to severe icing events in some parts of its range. The population was ca. 5,400 mature individuals in 1996, the lowest since surveys first commenced in 1961. Of four subpopulations, two are currently showing an increasing trend, one is stable, and the fourth had fewer than 10 individuals at the last count in 2005, with no evidence of any recovery. The overall population has experienced an estimated three-generation decline of 35%, but has been increasing over the past two decades. The highest-impact threats derive from a changing climate, including increased intensity and frequency of rain-on-snow events negatively affecting forage accessibility in winter, and decreased extent and thickness of sea ice causing shifts in migration and movement patterns.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: The original designation considered a single unit that included Peary Caribou, Rangifer tarandus pearyi, and what is now known as the Dolphin and Union Caribou, Rangifer tarandus. It was assigned a status of Threatened in April 1979. Split to allow designation of three separate populations in 1991: Banks Island (Endangered), High Arctic (Endangered) and Low Arctic (Threatened) populations. In May 2004 all three population designations were de-activated, and the Peary Caribou was assessed separately from the Dolphin and Union Caribou, Rangifer tarandus. The subspecies pearyi is composed of a portion of the former "Low Arctic population", and all of the former "High Arctic" and "Banks Island" populations, and it was designated Endangered in May 2004. Status re-examined and designated Threatened in November 2015.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2011-02-04

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

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Related Species

Species COSEWIC
Status
SARA
Status
Peary Caribou ( High Arctic population ) Non-active Endangered
Peary Caribou ( Low Arctic population ) Non-active Threatened
Peary Caribou ( Banks Island population ) Non-active Endangered

Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Peary Caribou

Peary Caribou Photo 1
Peary Caribou Photo 2

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Description

Peary Caribou are the smallest North American caribou. They are mostly white with a slate back and a grey stripe down the front of the legs. In winter, the slate back may turn a dingy brown, and some individuals appear almost entirely white. Antler velvet is slate-coloured instead of brown like deer and other caribou. The antlers tend not to spread as wide as those of other caribou but otherwise they are similar. The skull has a short rostrum and high cranium. The hooves are short and wide. They are genetically distinct from other caribou in Canada. Peary Caribou are integral components of Inuit and Inuvialuit culture and economy. As the only source of caribou meat for several Arctic communities, they are important in the subsistence economy of local communities, and represented in traditional crafts that are marketed and collected throughout Canada and internationally. Persisting at the limits of plant and animal existence, Peary Caribou are an integral part of Arctic biodiversity and increasingly important in the scientific study of ecosystem response to climate change. (Updated 2016/12/20)

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Distribution and Population

Peary Caribou are endemic to Canada in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. They have the northernmost distribution of all caribou in North America, situated almost entirely within the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, with the exception of Baffin Island. Peary Caribou move relatively long distances, including annual migrations across sea ice, regular movements within multi-island home ranges and erratic large-scale movements among islands during severe winters. Four subpopulations are recognized, based on genetic evidence, extent of inter-island movements, and scientific and local expertise: 1) Banks-Victoria islands, 2) Prince of Wales-Somerset-Boothia, 3) Eastern Queen Elizabeth Islands, and 4) Western Queen Elizabeth Islands. (Updated 2016/12/20)

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Habitat

The habitat of Peary Caribou is treeless Arctic tundra primarily within High and Middle Arctic tundra ecoregions. Most of the range can be characterized as a polar desert with short, cool summers and long, cold winters. The growing season is brief (50-60 days) and variable. Snow cover is generally present from September to May (Banks Island) or mid-late June (Melville Island). Land dominated by dry vegetation covers about 36% of the ice-free area within Peary Caribou range while the terrain ranges from relatively flat (south and west) to mountainous (north and east). The climate is also strongly regionalized with east-west and north-south gradients in precipitation and temperature, affecting primary productivity and forage availability. Above-ground plant biomass ranges from less than 100 g/m² (Queen Elizabeth Islands and parts of the Prince of Wales-Somerset group) to some areas (Banks Island and Prince of Wales Island) having up to 500–2000 g/m². Peary Caribou have a broad/varied diet and are versatile feeders with diet varying seasonally in relation to available forage and corresponding nutritional content. Essentially all historical Peary Caribou habitat is available and has not been lost or fragmented by industrial or other anthropogenic developments. (Updated 2016/12/20)

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Biology

Peary Caribou have several adaptations to their Arctic environment such as compact body size for conserving heat, hooves that allow them to walk on and dig through wind-driven snow, and pelage that provides camouflage. They are adapted to limited plant growth with a highly compressed growing season and long periods of snow-covered frozen standing vegetation. Peary Caribou are polygynous, living in small groups and maintaining a wide dispersion across the landscape, even during calving and rutting. They are thought to live approximately 15 years in the wild, and have widely variable vital rates. Cows usually produce their first offspring by 3 years of age; under conditions of high forage availability cows can calve every year but this is rare. Peary Caribou cows cope with occasional years of restricted forage access either by not becoming pregnant, or by weaning a calf prematurely. The intergeneration period (the average age of parents of the current year’s cohort) cannot be precisely calculated, but is estimated at 9 years. (Updated 2016/12/20)

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Threats

The overall calculated and assigned threat impact is Very High-Medium for Peary Caribou. This wide range rank of threat impacts is due to the combined effect of the high number of mostly low-impact threats, and the considerable uncertainty, unpredictability, and potential overlap and interaction of most individual threats. The highest-impact threat to Peary Caribou arises from the myriad effects of a changing climate, including increased intensity and frequency of severe weather events negatively affecting forage accessibility in the winters, and decreased extent and thickness of sea ice causing shifts in migration and movement patterns. The extent to which such negative effects could be offset by increases in plant productivity is uncertain. Other threats that are known, suspected, or predicted to have negative impacts on reproductive success or survival of Peary Caribou under a warming climate include pathogens (especially Brucella and Erysipelothrix) and increased shipping. Lower-impact direct threats include hunting, energy production and mining, human intrusions from work (non-tourist) activities, year-round military exercises, increases in traffic from snowmobiles, helicopters, and airplanes, competition with Muskoxen and airborne pollution. (Updated 2016/12/20)

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Protection

Federal Protection

The Peary Caribou is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name National Recovery Strategy for Peary Caribou
Status Not yet initiated

Name Recovery Strategy for the Peary Caribou (Rangifer tarandus pearyi) in Canada
Status First posting on SAR registry

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Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

16 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Peary Caribou Rangifer tarandus pearyi in Canada (2016-10-13)

    Peary Caribou are the smallest North American caribou. They are mostly white with a slate back and a grey stripe down the front of the legs. In winter, the slate back may turn a dingy brown, and some individuals appear almost entirely white. Antler velvet is slate-coloured instead of brown like deer and other caribou. The antlers tend not to spread as wide as those of other caribou but otherwise they are similar. The skull has a short rostrum and high cranium. The hooves are short and wide. They are genetically distinct from other caribou in Canada.
  • COSEWIC Assessment and Update Status Report on the Peary Caribou (Rangifer Tarandus Pearyi) and Barren-ground Caribou (Rangifer Tarandus Groenlandicus) (Dolphin and Union Population) in Canada (2004-05-01)

    Peary caribou are distinct from barren-ground caribou and no intermediate forms are recognizable at the subspecies level. Nevertheless, phenotypic and genotypic variations have been documented among the populations discussed in this report and the conservation of this diversity should be a primary goal of conservation and management. Peary caribou occupy the Queen Elizabeth Islands, Banks Island, the northwest corner of Victoria Island, Prince of Wales Island, Somerset Island, numerous smaller islands, and the Boothia Peninsula (and seasonally or irregularly on the mainland south to the Hayes River). Caribou of the Dolphin and Union herd occupy the remainder of Victoria Island and adjacent parts of the mainland and are phenotypically and genetically distinct from both barren-ground caribou and Peary caribou.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Peary Caribou (2017-01-11)

    This subspecies of caribou is endemic to the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, living on the edge of plant growth in polar desert and arctic tundra environments. The current population is estimated at 13,200 mature individuals. From a population high of 22,000 in 1987, the species experienced a catastrophic die-off in the mid-1990s related to severe icing events in some parts of its range. The population was ca. 5,400 mature individuals in 1996, the lowest since surveys first commenced in 1961. Of four subpopulations, two are currently showing an increasing trend, one is stable, and the fourth had fewer than 10 individuals at the last count in 2005, with no evidence of any recovery. The overall population has experienced an estimated three-generation decline of 35%, but has been increasing over the past two decades. The highest-impact threats derive from a changing climate, including increased intensity and frequency of rain-on-snow events negatively affecting forage accessibility in winter, and decreased extent and thickness of sea ice causing shifts in migration and movement patterns.
  • Response Statement - Peary Caribou (pearyi) (2004-10-22)

    This caribou is a Canadian endemic subspecies. Numbers have declined by about 72% over the last three generations, mostly because of catastrophic die-off likely related to severe icing episodes. The ice covers the vegetation and caribou starve. Voluntary restrictions on hunting by local people are in place, but have not stopped population declines. Because of the continuing decline and expected changes in long-term weather patterns, this subspecies is at imminent risk of extinction.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for the Peary Caribou (Rangifer tarandus pearyi) in Canada (2021-07-29)

    The Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister Responsible for the Parks Canada Agency is the competent minister under SARA for the Peary Caribou and has prepared this recovery strategy, as per section 37 of SARA. To the extent possible, it has been prepared in cooperation with the following co-management partners: governments of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, Wildlife Management Advisory Council (NWT), Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, Nunavut regional wildlife boards, hunters and trappers organizations/committees, and Inuit and Inuvialuit from nine communities within the range of Peary Caribou as per section 39(1) of SARA. In light of the current Covid-19 pandemic, the 60-day public comment period on the proposed Recovery Strategy for the Peary Caribou (Rangifer tarandus pearyi) in Canada has been extended to 90 days to provide sufficient time for feedback.

Orders

  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessments Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Act (2004-10-19)

    The Order acknowledges receipt by the Governor in Council of the assessments of the status of wildlife species done pursuant to subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The purpose of SARA is to prevent wildlife species from being extirpated or becoming extinct, to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity and to manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened.
  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessments Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Act(volume 144, number 12, 2010) (2010-05-27)

    Her Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, hereby acknowledges receipt, on the making of this Order, of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada’s (COSEWIC) assessments under subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act with respect to the species set out in the annexed schedule.
  • Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act (volume 145, number 4, 2011) (2011-02-16)

    Her Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, pursuant to section 27 of the Species at Risk Act, hereby makes the annexed Order Amending Schedules 1 to 3 to the Species at Risk Act.
  • Order Amending Schedules 1 to 3 to the Species at Risk Act (volume 139, number 15, 2005) (2005-07-27)

    The Minister of the Environment is recommending, pursuant to section 27 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA), that 43 species be added to Schedule 1, the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. This recommendation is based on scientific assessments by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and on consultations with governments, Aboriginal peoples, wildlife management boards, stakeholders and the Canadian public.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2004 (2004-09-16)

    2004 Annual Report to the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2015-2016 (2016-10-13)

    Over the past year COSEWIC re-examined the status of 25 wildlife species; of these, the majority (68%) were re-assessed at the same or lower level of risk. Of a total of 45 species assessed, seven were assigned a status of Not at Risk (two re-assessments and five new assessments). To date, and with the submission of this report, COSEWIC’s assessments now include 724 wildlife species in various risk categories, including 320 Endangered, 172 Threatened, 209 Special Concern, and 23 Extirpated (i.e., no longer found in the wild in Canada). In addition, 15 wildlife species have been assessed as Extinct, 54 wildlife species have been designated as Data Deficient, and 177 have been assessed and assigned Not at Risk status.

Permits and Related Agreements

  • Explanation for issuing permit(#AUL-2010-5673), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2014-07-01)

    This project involves low-level flying (120 Metres) to conduct a population census of Peary Caribou. This is done within Aulavik National Park as well as outside the park in an effort to survey the species every 5 years. Flight transects will only be flown once so the same animal will not be encountered more than once. Based on previous surveys using the same methodology, larger groups of caribou often do not scatter while smaller groups and single animals are more likely to scatter but there is not a high-intensity flight response. Injuries and/or mortalities have not been observed.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: November 2004 (2004-11-23)

    The Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003 as part of its strategy for the protection of wildlife species at risk. Attached to the act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, hereinafter referred to as the 'SARA list'. Canadians are invited to comment on whether all or some of the species included in this document should be added to the SARA list.
  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: Terrestrial Species - January 2017 (2017-01-16)

    The Government of Canada is committed to preventing the disappearance of wildlife species at risk from our lands. As part of its strategy for realizing that commitment, on June 5, 2003, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species provided for under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Extirpated, Endangered and Threatened species on Schedule 1 benefit from the protection afforded by the prohibitions and from recovery planning requirements under SARA. Special Concern species benefit from its management planning requirements. Schedule 1 has grown from the original 233 to 521 wildlife species at risk. In 2016, on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, the Governor in Council approved listing proposals for 44 wildlife species. It is proposed that 23 species be added to Schedule 1, 18 be reclassified or have a change made to how they are defined (two wildlife species are being split into four), one species  be removed from Schedule 1, and another two species not be added. Listing proposals were published in Canada Gazette, part I for a 30-day public comment period and final listing decisions for all 44 species are expected in the first half of 2017.Please submit your comments byMay 11, 2017, for terrestrial species undergoing normal consultationsand byOctober 11, 2017, for terrestrial species undergoing extended consultations.For a description of the consultation paths these species will undergo, please see:Minister of Environment response to COSEWIC species at risk assessments: October 13, 2016 The COSEWIC Summaries of Terrestrial Species Eligible for Addition or Reclassification on Schedule 1 - January 2017

Related Information

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA) Listing Plan 2016 to 2018 (2017-09-29)

    The status of wildlife species is assessed by an independent panel of expert Canadian scientists, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). 149 terrestrial species were assessed as at-risk by COSEWIC between 2009 and 2016 and are eligible for listing under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) to be considered by the Governor-in-Council (GIC) on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment: 86 species would be new additions, 54 currently listed species would be reclassified and 9 species would be updated to reflect changes in their recognized designatable units. A three-year listing plan has been developed to address all 149 terrestrial species and listing decisions for most species are anticipated by the end of 2018. Making amendments to Schedule 1 of SARA is a two-step process. The first step is for the GIC to propose an amendment through an order in council published in the Canada Gazette, Part I, for a 30-day public comment period. The second step is for the GIC to make a final decision on whether or not to make amendments to Schedule 1 of SARA, taking into consideration comments received during the 30-day public comment period. The amendments are made through an order in council published in the Canada Gazette, Part II. Both orders are accompanied by a Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement (RIAS) which presents the implications of listing the species or changing their status. Publishing this plan on the Species at Risk Public Registry is intended to provide transparency about the Government of Canada’s plan to make listing decisions under the Species at Risk Act. NOTE: The information presented below is intended to provide openness and transparency with respect to when terrestrial species might be considered for listing under Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act. It is intended to assist anyone who may wish to provide comments on such listing considerations. Given any number of factors can affect the timing of a listing decision; the Plan is subject to change. Accordingly, the Plan will be periodically updated.

Recovery Document Posting Plans

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada's Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan (2016-07-06)

    Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan identifies the species for which recovery documents will be posted each fiscal year starting in 2014-2015. Posting this three year plan on the Species at Risk Public Registry is intended to provide transparency to partners, stakeholders, and the public about Environment and Climate Change Canada’s plan to develop and post these proposed recovery strategies and management plans. However, both the number of documents and the particular species that are posted in a given year may change slightly due to a variety of circumstances. Last update July 29, 2021
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