Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Ghosts of Caribou Past

Christmas is just on week away.  The reindeer are ready, are you?

These reindeer escaped from a trailer and were running around a gas station parking lot (photographed December 2009)

Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) can be found across the Northern Hemisphere in Scandinavia, Siberia, and North America - in North America the species is known as Caribou.

While the species is not currently found in Michigan, it was probably very common during the last Ice Age.  During this period, Caribou were an import food source for the paleo-indians that populated the Great Lakes region.  Because so much of world's water was frozen in glaciers, migratory herds of caribou were able to cross a land bridge called the Alpena-Amberly Ridge across what is today Lake Huron.  The people of the time probably followed migratory caribou herds as the land bridge.  Since 2008, archaeologists have been using sonar to scan this ridge and have found numerous stacked stone structures that were probably used to ambush migrating herds.

Caribou are still found in the Canadian forests north of Lake Superior.  They were found on Isle Royale as late as the 1920s.  I remember reading somewhere that Caribou occasionally ventured south of the Straits of Mackinaw as late as the 1870s(?).  Today, the only Caribou that can be found in Michigan are in zoos or captive herds.  The reindeer in the photo above are from the Rooftop Landing Reindeer Farm in Clare, MI.  They just happened to escape from a parked trailer during transport on a snowy night in December 2008.  I had taken one of our dogs outside and ran back in to tell Shara that she needed to come outside immediately. It is not everyday that you see caribou/reindeer running around next to your house in Mid-Michigan.

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