A reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), also known as caribou in North America is a species of deer with circumpolar distribution, native to arctic, subarctic, tundra, boreal, and mountainous regions of northern Europe, Siberia, and North America. This includes both sedentary and migratory populations. Rangifer herd size varies greatly in different geographic regions. The Taimyr herd of migrating tundra reindeer (R.t. sibiricus) in Russia is the largest wild reindeer herd in the world with numbers varying between 400,000 and 1,000,000. The second largest is the migratory woodland caribou (R.t. caribou) George River herd in Canada, with variations between 28,000 and 385,000.
Rangifer vary in colour and size from the smallest, the Peary caribou, to the largest, the boreal woodland caribou. The North American range of caribou extends from Alaska, through the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, into the boreal forest and south through the Canadian Rockies and the Columbia and Selkirk Mountains. Barren ground, Porcupine caribou and Peary caribou live in the tundra, while the shy woodland caribou prefers the boreal forest. Two major subspecies in North America, the Porcupine caribou and the barren ground caribou, form large herds and undertake lengthy seasonal migrations from birthing grounds, to summer and winter feeding grounds in the tundra and taiga. The migrations of Porcupine caribou herds are among the longest of any terrestrial mammal. Barren ground caribou are also found in Kitaa in Greenland, but the larger herds are in Alaska, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut.
While overall widespread and numerous, some of its subspecies are rare and at least one has already become extinct, for example, the Queen Charlotte Islands caribou, Canada. Historically the range of the sedentary boreal woodland caribou covered over half of present day Canada and into the northern States in the U.S.. Woodland caribou have disappeared from most of their original southern range and were designated as threatened in 2002 by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Environment Canada reported in 2011 that there were approximately 34,000 boreal caribou in 51 ranges remaining in Canada. (Environment Canada, 2011b) Siberian tundra reindeer herd are in decline. For this reason, Rangifer tarandus is considered to be vulnerable by the IUCN.
Human dependence on caribou/wild reindeer began in the Middle Pleistocene period. Arctic peoples, such as the Caribou Inuit, the inland-dwelling Inuit of the Kivalliq Region in northern Canada, the Caribou Clan in the Yukon, Inupiat, Inuvialuit, Hän, Northern Tutchone, and the Gwich'in (who followed the Porcupine Caribou for millennia), have depended on them for food, clothing, and shelter. Hunting of wild reindeer and herding of semi-domesticated reindeer (for meat, hides, antlers, milk and transportation) are important to several Arctic and Subarctic peoples.
The Sami people, (Laplanders), who live in four countries but are one people, have also depended on reindeer herding and fishing for centuries. IV In Lapland, reindeer pull pulks.
Male and female reindeer can grow antlers annually, although the proportion of females that grow antlers varies greatly between population and season. Antlers are typically larger on males.
In traditional festive legend, Santa Claus's reindeer pull a sleigh through the night sky to help Santa Claus deliver gifts to children on Christmas Eve.