Caribou vs Elk Best 10 Main Differences Explained

Caribou vs Elk

Caribou belong to the family Cervidae and is member of the deer family. Moose is the first largest, while Cervus Canadensis is the second-largest member of the deer family. These species are present in mountainous regions of North America, Siberia, and Europe. Caribou with large antlers possess white-colored necks with fur lighter compared to the rest of their body parts. Reindeer and caribou are the same animal species. 

Santa Claus was known to have reindeer in 1821, due to which it is supposed that reindeers were males. Woodland caribou, Peary caribou, and Barren ground caribou are the sub-species of an animal called reindeer, while Finnish forest reindeer are the rare sub-species. Reindeers have origin in the arctic and subarctic regions. Caribou live in the Arctic tundra. Male and female caribou grow antlers, unlike moose or elk. This terrestrial mammal called caribou migrates in large herds with female caribou called cows. 

Caribou possess wide antlers. Male caribou possess larger antlers than female caribou. Adult caribou fight with other animals in aggression to defend females. In contrast, reindeers have the heaviest antlers of all deer species. Both male and female reindeer tend to grow antlers. Caribou’s antlers are curved and tall that can be quickly identified. 

On the other hand, Elk is also a member of the family Cervidae and the largest species of the deer species. Rocky mountain elk is a sub-species of elk present in the Rocky Mountains. Elk is a large deer with dark brown fur, just like red deer fur. The fur on the elks necks is darker in color compared to their hairy bodies. Elk range in Wyoming, New Mexico, Alaska, California, Washington, and others. Elks being the solitary animals and largest terrestrial mammals, are present in Central and East Asia and North America. Elk live primarily in Western and northern regions. 

Caribou vs Elk

Male elk weigh up to 1000 pounds compared to female elk weighing between 500 and 600 pounds. The adult elk being taller, weighs more than adult caribou. In addition, elk males show ritualized mating behaviors during the breeding season, including antler wrestling. The adult elk with the largest antlers attracts females during mating season. Only male elk mate with females. The females have a 240 to 262 days gestation period and produce fertile offspring. Although both elk and caribou animals belong to the same species of the deer family, they are considered different species. For instance, caribou’s antlers are bigger than elk’s antlers with dark brown fur. 



These animal species are present in mountain tundra, arctic tundra, and Northern forests of Scandinavia, Russia, and North America. They are distributed in a total population of about 5 million or 32 herds. 

These species are present in coniferous rainforests along with eastern deciduous forests, swampy valleys of California, sagebrush forests, the Pacific Coast, Aspen parklands, tundra, and boreal forests. 

The adult ones have an average size of between 3 and 4 feet tall. However, their weight and size vary greatly by region and sex. For example, females weigh almost 200 pounds, while males possess bodyweight of 275 to 375 pounds. 

The adult male ones reach their largest sizes at the age of 7 years. Once fully grown, they attain an average size of about 5 feet tall. Furthermore, males called bulls weigh up to 1100 pounds, and females with the size of 4.5 feet possess an average weight of 600 pounds.

Caribou herbivores, tend to eat small shrubs, dried sedges, and reindeer moss or lichens during winter and fall. In comparison, their diet includes mushrooms, flowering tundra plants, sedges, and willows’ leaves during the summer season. 

Elks are also herbivores like caribou that mostly eat plants. But more specifically, they search for twigs, shrubs, grasses, tree bark in the winter, grasses in the fall and spring, and forbs and grasses in summer. 

They tend to migrate in herds, moving at an average 11 to 33 miles per day or 199 to 55 kilometers per day. The maximum running speed of these animal species is about 36 to 48mph or 60 to 80kmph.

The mature bull elks can outrun horses with an average 40 miles per hour in short races. In addition to this, these animal species migrate to higher altitudes and jump about eight feet vertically. 

The mating season of these animal species comes between September and November. Males fight with each other to mate with females. The females possess a gestation period of around seven and a half months, giving birth to one baby at a time. 

The females with a gestation period of 8.5 months give birth to one calf or twins during May and June every year. These newly born calves 35 pounds stay with their mothers until the next reproductive cycle comes.

Caribou being the wild, large, and elk-like animal species, are not domesticated. 

Like other animals, including larger deer, and moose, elks can also be domesticated, but limited. 

These animal species can live an average lifespan of eight to fifteen years. The oldest caribou appeared about 1.6 million years ago. 

Elks live for almost eight to twelve years but sometimes can live up to more than twenty years in captivity. 

These are ungulates meaning that they have chew cud and cloven hooves. They use this physical adaption to reach lichens. 

These animal species also possess long legs and massive antlers with cloven hooves like their relatives, such as moose, deer, and caribou.

Golden eagles prey on young calves during summer, bears, lynx, and wolves eat caribou during winter, fall, spring and summer. 

The predators of elk species include mountain lions, Gray wolves, black bears, bobcats, coyotes, and other animals.

These animal species are considered endangered because of habitat loss due to mining, road-building, oil and gas operations, and industrial logging. 

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, elks are not endangered. 


Sometimes people get confused and raise questions relating to caribou vs elk animal species. Therefore, the answers to some of those questions are as given below;

Is a reindeer an elk or caribou?

Caribou reindeer are the same animals, both belonging to the deer family. In North America, the animals are called reindeers if domesticated and caribou if they are wild. 

Can caribou and elk breed?

A caribou-elk hybrid is not possible, according to the biologist Jim Heffelfinger. They both come in completely different subfamilies of the deer family named Cervidae. 


Although various animal species are present throughout the world, all possess unique identification features. Caribou and elks are similar as well as different in many ways. This blog post has provided exciting facts and information about these animal species to make your minds clear. It will help great if you read this article with full attention.

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