Gray Ghosts

Woodland caribou. Wayne Wakkinen, Idaho Fish and GameThere is a city in northern Maine called Caribou. Most people probably assume it is one of those silly names you see on maps—like Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, or Santa Claus, Indiana. But there is actually a good reason that Caribou has the name it does:

From the end of the last ice age to the turn of the twentieth century, woodland caribou, or American reindeer, roamed the barrens, bogs, and forests of northern and eastern Maine. When they disappeared, quite suddenly according to some accounts, they left a legacy of place names (the city of Caribou, for one), and an enduring mystique. In 1908, a small herd scampering across the Mount Katahdin tablelands entered the mythology as the last confirmed sighting, but in fact hopeful reports of lone reindeer persisted for forty years...

Maine was home to some other interesting species that were extirpated by European colonists, among them the mountain lion, wolverine, and timber wolf. Mountain lion sightings have become regular events in recent years, and eastern coyotes are growing larger and more wolflike. But I doubt wolverines are coming back any time soon. Nor caribou, sadly.