Caribou Vs Reindeer Vs Elk

Caribou vs Reindeer vs Elk: Comparison and Differences

Caribou, reindeer, and elk are some of the most majestic creatures in the animal kingdom. These antlered animals are often confused with each other, and many people assume that they are all the same animal. However, each of these species has unique characteristics that set them apart. In this article, we will compare caribou vs reindeer vs elk and highlight their differences.

What Are Caribou?

Caribou, also known as reindeer in some regions, are a species of deer found in the northern regions of North America, Europe, and Asia. They are a migratory species that move in large herds to their summer and winter ranges. During migration, caribou cover vast distances, and their movements are critical to the ecosystems in which they live.

Caribou have a unique body type, with their broad, flat hooves providing excellent traction on snow and ice. They also have long legs, which help them move through deep snow. Caribou are well adapted to cold climates, with a dense coat of fur that keeps them warm in winter.

What Are Reindeer?

Reindeer are similar to caribou, and in fact, they are the same species. Reindeer are the name given to caribou in Europe and Asia. In North America, the term caribou is used. Reindeer are domesticated in some regions, and they have played an essential role in the lives of humans for centuries.

Reindeer have a shorter and stockier build than caribou, which makes them better suited to harsh winters. They also have a thicker coat of fur that helps them stay warm. Reindeer are herded and used for their meat, milk, and fur.

What Are Elk?

Elk, also known as wapiti, are one of the largest deer species found in North America and eastern parts of Asia. They are an attractive animal, with large antlers and a reddish-brown coat. Elk tend to inhabit regions with a mix of forests and open meadows.

Elk are not migratory, and they tend to stay in one area throughout the year. They are adaptable animals that can survive in a range of environments, from the forests of the Pacific Northwest to the grasslands of the Great Plains. Elk have a varied diet that includes grasses, leaves, bark, and twigs.

Comparison and Differences Between Caribou vs Reindeer vs Elk

Size and Appearance: Caribou are slightly smaller than elk, with a shoulder height of around 1.2 to 1.5 meters. Reindeer are the same size as caribou. Elk are the largest of the three animals, with a shoulder height of 1.4 to 1.6 meters.

Distribution and Habitat: Caribou are found in the northern regions of North America, Europe, and Asia. They inhabit tundra and taiga regions, where their migration patterns play a crucial role in the ecosystem. Reindeer are found in the same regions as caribou, and they are domesticated in some areas. Elk are found in North America and eastern parts of Asia and are more adaptable to a range of environments than Caribou and Reindeer.

Migration: Caribou are famous for their long-distance migration, which can cover thousands of kilometers each year. Reindeer undertake similar journeys, with some domesticated populations completing winter migrations of up to 1200 kilometers. Elk do not migrate and tend to stay in one area throughout the year.

Behavior and Diet: Caribou are herbivores, and their diet consists mostly of lichen, moss, and other vegetation. They are social animals and tend to form large herds during migration. Reindeer are also herbivores and are often herded by humans for their milk, meat, and fur. Elk are opportunistic herbivores, and their diet varies depending on the season and availability of food. They are solitary animals that tend to graze alone or in small groups.


Caribou, reindeer, and elk are fascinating animals with unique characteristics that set them apart. While they are all part of the deer family, they have different physical attributes, behaviors, and habitats. Understanding the differences between these animals is essential in appreciating and managing these species’ conservation effectively. Whether you are a wildlife enthusiast, a hunter, or just someone who loves animals, these animals will continue to captivate us for many years to come.