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What Is the Difference Between Elk Reindeer and Caribou? (Revealed)

What Is the Difference Between Elk Reindeer and Caribou? (Revealed)

Many different species of deer exist in the wild. One such species is the Rangifer tarandus and both the Elk Caribou and reindeer belong to this species of deer.

Therefore, these three animals have many similarities that’s why people often get confused between them and mix them up.

However, despite belonging to the same species these two animals differ from each other in terms of their appearance and characteristics. In this article, I’ll be going over the main differences between the elk, reindeer, and caribou and will also explain the characteristics appearance, and other details about these animals.

The Elk

The word Elk comes from the German root word meaning “stag” or “heart and in Europe, it is the most common name for the Moose. Wapiti is another name for the Elk. The Elk is the largest and most advanced species of red reindeer.

The Elk is a large animal that has a short tail and a patch on its rump. The male Elks grow antlers in the spring season which are shed in the winter. The female Elks have no antlers. The coat of the Elk which consists of long waterproof hair becomes thicker as the winter approaches to protect them from the cold.

Elks are born with spots on their bodies that disappear during the summer. The color of their fur depends on the habitat they are born in and It changes in different seasons. Following are some of the main characteristics of the Elk:

  • Population size: 2 million
  • Wight: 225-320 kg
  • Life span: 8-20 yrs
  • Top speed: 56km/h
  • Height: 1.3-1.5m
  • Length: 2-2.5m
A male elk standing in the fields
A male elk standing in the fields

Habits And Lifestyle of The Elk

Elks are socially active animals that form herds in the summer season consisting of up to 400 Elks. Male Elks usually travel alone and female Elks travel in large groups.

Baby Elks associate themselves with either the males or a female group. During the morning and evening, Elks graze and move around. By nightfall, they become inactive and spend their time resting and chewing their food.

The females will bark alarmingly to warn other herd members of danger and the baby Elks will produce a high-pitched scream when attacked.

Elks are also very good swimmers and can swim at a very fast pace over large distances. When provoked they lift their head flare their nostrils and punch with their front hooves.

Distribution of the Elks

The Elk are heavily distributed in the North American and East Asian zones in countries like Canada the USA China and Bhutan.  Forest edges and Alpine meadows are their largest habitats. However, because they are highly adaptable animals they can also be found in deserts and mountainous areas.


The reindeer is the most popular among the species of dears. They are large animals with a thick coat that changes in color during the summer and winter season. They have short white tails and a pale-colored chest. Both male and female reindeer have antlers. The males shed them after breeding and the females shed them during spring.

They’re super adaptable animals as their footpads adapt to the seasons. In summers they turn spongy to give them good traction and in winter tighten and shrink to expose the edge of the hoof so they can cut into the snow and ice so that they don’t slip.

They have nasal turbulent bones that increase the surface area of their nostrils so the cold air can be warmed before it reaches the lungs. Following are some characteristics of the reindeer:

  • Population size: 2,890,410
  • Weight: 80-182kg
  • Life span: 15-20 yrs
  • Top speed: 80 km/h
  • Height: 0.85-1.50m
  • Length: 1,62-2,14m
A reindeer in the snow
A reindeer in the snow

Habits And Lifestyle of The Reindeer

Reindeers travel distances greater than any other terrestrial mammal. These long journeys also called migration lead them back to the calving grounds.

The use of these grounds is how reindeer are defined. They form large herds of tens of thousands of reindeer during the summer season but as winter arrives they disperse. They live in snowy forested areas and find food by digging it from under the snow using their front hooves.

Distribution of The Reindeer

Reindeers are found in the mountainous regions of the continents of Asia North America and Europe in countries like Canada Norway and Russia. Some of the animals are sedentary while others perform long migrations from their birthplaces to feeding grounds in the winter and summer seasons.


The Caribou is a large member of the deer family. They have a number of physical features and characteristics that make them unique from other animals.

For example, Caribou have large, hooves that are well-suited for walking on snow and ice. They also have a thick coat of fur that helps keep them warm in cold climates. Additionally, Caribou are known for their strong sense of smell, which helps them find food and avoid predators. Following are the characteristics of the caribou:

  • Population size: 2.1 million
  • Weight: 60-318 kg
  • Life span: 8-15 yrs
  • Top speed: 80 km/h
  • Height: 1.2-2.5
  • Length: 1.2-2.2

Habits And Lifestyle of The Caribou

The caribou go through one of the most challenging migrations of any other terrestrial mammal. Large herds consisting of thousands of animals undertake a journey of 5000 kilometers in which they visit calving and feeding grounds. The female caribou set out for the journey weeks before the males. The males then follow along with the calves.

They move from one region to another in search of tundra plants on which they feed. The caribou constantly cross rivers and lakes during their migrations and are very strong swimmers. In the winter season, they move to the boreal forests where the snow cover is less. Here they use their wide hooves to dig on the lichen beneath the snow

Generally, male caribous are quiet animals but they may make loud snort noises which makes them sound like pigs. The female and calve caribous however make a lot of sounds because they constantly communicate with each other.

Distribution of the Caribou

The Caribou are found in the Artic regions of Greenland Alaska North America and Asia. They can also be seen in sub-arctic boreal forests where they stop during their migration. Their habitats include arctic Tundra regions and mountainous habitats.

The Difference Between Elk Reindeer And Caribou

The first difference between these three animals is their antlers. The Caribous have tall and curved antlers, Elk have tall and sharp antlers and the reindeer have sharp and pointy antlers.

They’re also different types of feeders. The caribou is a mixed forager, the Elk is a selective feeder, and reindeers are roughage feeders. The animals also differ in their distribution. elk live in mountainous forests in East Asia and North America. Caribou are found in Asia, Europe, North America, and Greenland, whereas reindeer live primarily in the Arctic.

The caribou and the reindeer are the fastest of the three with a top speed of 80 km/h in comparison the Elk has a top speed of just 56 km/h.  The reindeers have the greatest population size of 2.8 million, caribou are second with a population of 2.1 million and Elk have the lowest population size of 2 million.

Coming to their physique the Elks are the heaviest with a maximum weight of 320kg. Caribou is second with a weight of 218 kg and reindeer are the lightest among the three with a maximum weight of 168 kg.

225-320 kg80-182kg60-318 kg
8-20 yrs: 15-20 yrs8-15 yrs
56km/h80 km/h80 km/h
                2 million2.8 million2.1 million
A table showing the different characteristics of Elks reindeer and caribou
A video about the difference between an Elk reindeer and caribou


  • All three animals, Elk reindeer, and caribou belong to the same species of deer yet there are many differences between them.
  • The word Elk comes from the German root word meaning “stag” or “heart
  • The reindeer is the most popular among the species of dears.
  • The Caribou is a large member of the deer family.
  • All three of these animals have different characteristics, physical attributes, and habits.
  • They also vary in their distribution and have different habitats.
  • You will find most of these animals in North America and Europe

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