Several subspecies are recognized:
|Body Length||160-200 cm|
|Tail Length||14-20 cm|
The female varies in weight between 60 and 170 kg and measures 162-205 cm long. The male (or 'bull') is typically larger (although the extent to which varies in the different subspecies), weighing 100-318 kg and measuring 180-214 cm in head- and body length. Shoulder height can measure from 80-150 cm, and the tails adds 14-20 cm. Domesticated reindeer are shorter-legged and heavier than their wild counterparts.
Both sexes grow antlers, which (in the Scandinavian variety) for older males fall off in December, for young males in the early spring, and for females in the summer. The antlers typically have two separate groups of points, a lower and upper. The antlers of a reindeer bull are the second largest of any extant deer, after the moose (elk), and can range up to 100 cm in width and 135 cm in beam length. They have the largest antlers relative to body size among deer.
Reindeer have specialized noses featuring nasal turbinate bones that dramatically increase the surface area within the nostrils. Incoming cold air is warmed by the animals body heat before entering the lungs, and water is condensed from the expired air and captured before the deers breath is exhaled, used to moisten dry incoming air and possibly absorbed into the blood through the mucous membranes.
Reindeer hooves adapt to the season; in the summer, when the tundra is soft and wet, the footpads become sponge-like and provide extra traction. In the winter, the pads shrink and tighten, exposing the rim of the hoof, which cuts into the ice and crusted snow to keep it from slipping. This also enables them to dig down (an activity known as cratering') through the snow to their favourite food, a lichen known as reindeer moss. When walking a tendon in the foot slips over a bone producing a clicking sound.
The reindeer coat has two layers of fur, a dense woolly undercoat and a longer-haired overcoat consisting of hollow, air-filled hairs. Coloration is quite variable, ranging from pure white through tan to dark brownish gray, with the under sided and rump lighter. The legs are generally dark, as is a band, which runs along the lower torso. There is a small dewlap covered with long white hair along the throat, while the face is generally darker. Unlike many deer species, caribou calves are born without spots.
The sense of smell is the most heavily relied upon to find food and locate danger, as the senses of sight and hearing are not well developed. Vocalizations include an alarmed snort, a bawl, and a grunting roar (made by rutting males).
Reindeer can be found in Arctic tundra and adjacent boreal forest.
In summer, reindeer prefer to move upwards to higher altitudes to escape insects. During insect harassment time, condensed groups protect the animals inside the group from insects, which mostly attack animals on the outside of the group. The least protection against insect appears in herds of about 30 reindeer, about three quarters of animals are protected in herds of 1,000 animals, and there is no significant increase in protection when herd size exceeds 2,000 reindeer.
Reindeer are ruminants, having a four-chambered stomach. They mainly eat lichens in winter, especially reindeer moss. However, they also eat the leaves of willows and birches, as well as sedges and grasses. There is some evidence to suggest that on occasion, they will also feed on lemmings, arctic char and bird eggs. Reindeer herded by the Chukchis have been known to devour mushrooms enthusiastically in late summer.
Reindeer live in families (females with calves), and herds. During rut, bulls try to keep harems in the same migratory herds, but often fail.
Wood reindeer never form large herds in contrast to their tundra kin. Groups of wood reindeer comprise about 20-30 animals, not more.
|Gestation periode||228 days|
|Young per Birth||1|
|Weaning||at about 6 months|
|Sexual Maturity||2,5 years|
|Life span||up to 20 years|
Mating occurs from late September to early November. Males battle for access to females. Two males will lock each others antlers together and try to push each other away. The most dominant males can collect as many as 15-20 females to mate with. A male will stop eating during this time and lose much of its body reserves.
Calves may be born the following May or June. Most mating occurs in October, with the births occurring in late May and early June. Born for speed, a caribou calf can follow its mother within one hour of birth. After 45 days, the calves are able to graze and forage but continue suckling until the following fall and become independent from their mothers.
The reindeer travels the furthest of any terrestrial mammal, walking up to 5,000 km a year, (although in Europe the animal does not migrate as far), and covering 1,000,000 km2. Normally travelling about 19-55 km a day while migrating, the caribou can run at speeds of 60-80 km/h. During the spring migration smaller herds will group together to form larger herds of 50,000 to 500,000 animals but during autumn migrations, the groups become smaller, and the reindeer begin to mate. During the winter, reindeer travel to forested areas to forage under the snow. By spring, groups leave their winter grounds to go to the calving grounds. Usual movements are walk, trot, and sometimes amble.
A reindeer can swim easily and quickly at 6,5 km/h but if necessary at 10 km/h, and migrating herds will not hesitate to swim across a large lake or broad river.
Snow >50-60 cm impedes movement of single animals; 80-90 cm of snow impedes the movement of herds. In European taiga, Reindeer were mostly found where snow depth was < 50-90 cm. Reindeer can dig through snow 90-120 cm deep. However, digging in snow > 70-80 cm requires more energy than the animal can obtain from food. In some taiga areas with snow depths of 150-200 cm, tree lichens are eaten instead of ground lichens.
Feeding on lichens is closely linked to the morphology of teeth, stomach and intestines and the physiology of reindeer. Lichens, as energy rich food, are important for survival. To consume freshly growing plants in spring, reindeer follow melting snow northwards, to the sea, and to elevated areas where summer comes later. The migratory herds lag about 15 to 20 days behind the line of melting snow. In the middle of summer there is a short migration back, and then movement again to colder places, to use secondary vegetation. When snow conditions dramatically worsen, mass migrations happen in any season. The extent of male migration is usually much longer than that of females. In many areas migratory and settled populations co-exist during some seasons. In all populations, females start spring migrations earlier than males in order to be on calving grounds early.
Reindeer drink water in the summer; reindeer like the brackish seawater in river estuaries. During winter, they eat snow and lick water from the top of ice formed on rivers.
There are a variety of predators that prey heavily on reindeer; Golden Eagles and Sea eagles prey on calves and are the most prolific hunter on calving grounds. Wolverine will take newborn calves or birthing cows, as well as (less commonly) infirm adults. Brown bears (in the rare cases where they encounter each other). Polar bears prey on reindeer of all ages but (as with the wolverine) are most likely to attack calves or sickly animals.
The wolf is the most effective natural predator of adult reindeer, especially during the winter.
As carrion, caribou are fed on by foxes, ravens and hawks.
Blood-sucking insects, such as black flies and mosquitoes, are a plaque to reindeer during the summer and can cause enough stress to inhibit feeding and calving behaviours.
The population numbers of some of these predators is influenced by the migration of reindeer.
There are approximately 30,000 wild reindeer in southern Norway and 10,000 in Svalbard. The population trend in Norway is believed to be stable, and hunting is controlled.
Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus) Status within country: not threatened Norway holds more than 90% of the wild reindeer population in Europe. The total population of wild Reindeer in Norway is about 35,000 animals within an area of 35-40,000 km2 of mountainous habitat. Apart from the subgenus of Rangifer tarandus fennicus in Finland and the arctic reindeer on Svalbard, Norway today holds more than 90% of the wild Reindeer in Europe (including north west Russia). The wild reindeer population in this area has varied between 35,000 and 9,000 animals during the last 50 years.
The population is strictly managed by hunting. Managers are presently aiming at a winter population of 10,000 animals. The annual population harvest comes to an average of 25-30% per year. The Hardangervidda population serves as a reservoir for wild Reindeer in Scandinavia.
In Finland, forest reindeer (subspecies R. t. fennicus) were driven extinct in the early 1900's, but are now starting to recover as a result of animals moving in from Karelia in Russia and from some captive bred stock that were released. Forest Reindeer remain very rare in Finland (about 1,200 in the eastern subpopulation and 1,000 individuals in the western subpopulation).
The Finnish population trend is difficult to determine, as the population in eastern Finland has expanded rapidly from c. 40 reintroduced individuals in 1980 to c.1,200 today, whereas the western subpopulation has declined from c.1,800 to c.1,000 during 2001-2006 (although in the last few years prior to 2001 it had been increasing).
Overall, the current Finnish population trend is one of growth rather than decline.
Numbers in European Russia are very low with presumed ongoing declines, and the reindeer is now absent from large tracts of tundra and taiga. It is not known whether the small Kola Peninsula population in Russia is derived from autochthonous wild reindeer or from semi domesticated animals.
The Novaya Zemlya subspecies pearsoni has a small population (less than 1,000 mature individuals), which is undergoing continuing decline.
Wild reindeer numbers in Yakutia were 700,000 to 900,000 animals until the middle of the 17th century. At the beginning of the 20th century there were about 360,000 wild reindeer in the north-eastern part of Yakutia. Rapid degradation of the continental tundra herds began in 1920 to 1930. This decrease continued until the late 1950s. Then their population began growing. By 1963 to 1965 the estimate of the Yana-Indigirka herd was 49,500 individuals, by 1975 it comprised 109,000 animals. The Sundrun herd for the same period numbered from 10,000 to 21,500 and Lena Olenek herd gave a rise from 21,000 to 49,500 reindeer. The number of island reindeer grew up to 17,700 by 1965 and then reduced much again under the effect of abnormal weather conditions by 1978.
According to preliminary information in the early 1960's the total number of wild wood reindeer in Yakutia was about 100,000 animals. In 1975 somewhat less (± 90,000 ind.) Later wood reindeer population are estimated at 57,000 animals (1986). In other opinions currently the wood reindeer number in Yakutia is 50,000-60,000 animals. In 2006 16 zoos and wildlife parks kept a total population of 69 forest reindeer.
Migrations of reindeer population and strong dependency of native people on those reindeer population are the most important special phenomena of this territory. Reindeer migrate up to 1,000 - 1,200 km. Migratory herds include up to 80,000 animals. Historically, natives have always been closely connected to the reindeer hunt, they need to be involved in the conservation of the natural process.
About 650,000-700,000 reindeer inhabit Taymyr. The Reindeer population spends wintertime in the Taiga and moves in March-April to the forest-tundra for calving grounds. They spend the whole summer in the Tundra in the northern part of the area. Since the 1950s, when the population increased, Reindeer has been migrating from the western Taymyr to the Putorany mountains. Human activity around Norilsk and ice-breakers work on the Enisey partly destroyed reindeer migratory routes. As a result drastical changes of the migratory routes occurred in 1993 when the reindeer migrations suddenly moved to Yakutiya and the Northern Evenkiya. Today, no exact knowledge of the reindeer migrations exists.
That vast territory goes along with a large amount of herbivores which show seasonal adaptations to vegetation and changes of snow cover. Grazing impact and plant communities restoration remain balanced during long periods. Probably, cropping animals by humans and predators as well as long migrations are the important factors of natural regulation. However, intervals of 115 to 130 years show extreme low densities of the reindeer population.
The reindeers status in Asia is poorly known, although it is significantly more abundant there than in Europe, with a population estimated at 400,000 in the 1950's.
Two separate populations of this species are present in Mongolia. No robust data on population trends or abundance are currently available, although the total Mongolian population is believed to consist of fewer than 1,000 individuals.
There are also large numbers of reindeer (locally known as caribou) in North America.
The feral population in Iceland numbers c.1000, and there are approximately 0,5 million semi-domesticated reindeer in Lappland.
|Finland, Western Population||400||Stable|
|Finland, Eastern population||1,000||Declining|
|Males||Females||Unknowns||Births (last 12 months)|
|The Netherlands, Arnhem - Burgers zoo||?||?|
Originally, the reindeer was found in Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Russia, Mongolia and northern China of the 50th latitude.
As Mongolia is the southern edge of the species global distribution, reindeer occurs here only in the mountainous area of Western Khovsgol, Jams, West- and East Jodog of Ulaan taiga ridge and Tengis-Shishged river basin. The distribution range has decreased in the last 30 year at half. The population was estimated at 200-400 in 1996. The major and only known threat is poaching.
Today, wild reindeer have disappeared from many areas within the large historical range, especially from the southern parts, where it vanished almost everywhere.
Large populations of wild reindeer are still found in Norway and Siberia and a small population in Finland and North-Western Russia.
Domesticated reindeer are mostly found in northern Fennoscandia, Russia and Iceland (where humans introduced them in the 18th century).
During the LHNet Network meeting, Moscow, May 2011 LHNet expert Prof. Leonid Baskin presented an extended overview of the current distribution of Reindeer in Russia.
Detailed information on the current distribution can be found in the presentation:Conservation reindeer by enlarging the nature reserves net.
His conclusion was that:
Apart from its size and its wildlife in general the Hardangervidda area has a high conservation value because of its wild reindeer. Reindeer has inhabited this area since the last glacial epoch. Archaeological evidence estimates that the cultural traditions of subsistent hunting are 8.000 to 10.000 years old. During the last two centuries domestic reindeer has been bred. Some interbreeding between the domesticated and the wild form occurred during the last world war.
Its wild reindeer herds are among the largest in the world, with some 15,000 animals recorded in 1996 and about 8,000 in 2008. They migrate across the plateau during the year, moving from their winter grazing lands on the east side of the Hardangervidda, where they graze on lichen, to their breeding grounds in the more fertile west of the plateau. The total reindeer population lives in 24 more or less isolated population units, with the Hardangervidda population being the largest. The total population size has been more or less stable during the last decade although local herds have varied considerably in numbers, resulting in heavy overgrazing and density dependent effects on reindeer life histories in some areas.
Distribution of forage and access to winter and summer pastures are very different for the different populations. It is the result of both, a pronounced east-west gradient in precipitation and, consequently, lichen coverage but also of former periods of overgrazing.
The varying climate of the plateau has a marked effect on the flora, which is richer on the wetter west side than in the drier east; much of the plateau is covered by coarse grasses, mosses (especially sphagnum) and lichens.
Reindeer numbers have fluctuated historically, but many herds are in decline across their range. This global decline is linked to climate change for northern, migratory reindeer and industrial disturbance from mining operations. The mining activities fragment the habitat by pipelines and roads. The tundra has become more accessible and none resident workers hunt reindeer for pleasure.
LHNet's expert, Dr. Leonid Baskin prepared an illustrative overview on the Effects of Global Warning on Reindeer populations.
In Western Siberia (Khanty-Mansi Okrug, Tyumen oblast, Tomsk oblast) causes of the strong decline of wild reindeer populations are particularly obvious. These areas include the main centres of the oil and gas industry of the Russian North. They are full of workers, oil drill rigs, and thousands of snow machines that are used to travel in the area by the seismic geologists.
The negative impact of the industrialisation increased sharply after the construction of the East Siberia-pacific Ocean oil pipeline in 2006-2007. Besides fragmenting the reindeer habitats and thus changing the reindeer seasonal movements, it destroyed important lichen ranges. The construction of the pipelines opens more access to former inaccessible areas for poachers and hunters and also the disturbance factor becomes greater. A presentation is avalaible on the industrial threats to reindeer in Russia.
The large scale constructions in Siberia; railways, highways, roads, oil and gas pipelines divide wild deer ranges into fragments. Part of important reindeer habitats becomes destroyed by constructing these line designs, or because of the disturbance factor the animals cannot sometimes reach their vitally important sites where rut takes place, or arrive to their calving grounds on time, find fattening stations, move to their winter habitats and so on. Lack of rest can result in loss of fecundity and less young reindeer survival. If animals are frightened they may loss weight, change their hormones status and in all this cause less survival and productivity rate.
Climate change is affecting migratory caribou in a number of ways. Warmer summer mean more insect activity, and reindeer are harassed by insects are not able to feed to put on weight before winter. Earlier springs mean plants may be past their prime time by the time migrating animals reach their calving grounds, while warmer winters include more freezing rain which can form layers of ice over the ground. The reindeer cannot dig through the ice to feed, and starve en masse.
Large scale logging of old growth forest has negatively affected wild reindeer population as during periods of high snow cover reindeer depend on lichen on trees as their main food supply. Young plantations do not contain tree lichen as they take a long time to grow. (van de Vlasakker, 2003).
In areas where wild and domestic reindeer live hybridization occurs and threatens the wild population. Transfer of diseases is also a risk for the wild population.
In Nova Zembla, among 6.000 reindeer living on these islands, in 1986, 10% demonstrated colour features of tame reindeer, as a result of hybridization since 1928-1933, when 604 tame reindeer were acclimatized there. Feral populations of reindeer inhabit the Wrangel Island, domestic reindeer from Chukchi Peninsula were introduced in 1948, and have become feral since 1972.
In the republic of Sakha the reindeer suffer from forest fires that destroy their main winter food reserves over extensive areas causing the animals moving off. Domestic reindeer farming also forces wild reindeer out of their best pastures.
Increased (Industrial & sports) hunting pressure and poaching have lowered populations and brought a sex imbalance due to unlimited hunting of the most productive females aged 4-8 years.
In Finland, the wild forest reindeer is a game animal, and responsibility for the management and conservation of the wild forest reindeer population belongs to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. At the province level, game management is the responsibility of the game management districts, which are local administrative units of the Finnish game management system and also of the statutory hunting organization. In 2007 this ministry published the Management Plan for the Wild Forest Reindeer Population in Finland.
Over the past few years, the growth of the wild forest reindeer population in Suomenselkä, its decline in Kainuu, the spread of wild forest reindeers to new areas and ways of ensuring genetic purity have highlighted the major challenges in managing the wild forest reindeer population in Finland. Even though attitudes to the wild forest reindeer are for the most part positive, there are conflicting aims in managing the wild forest reindeer population, both at the national and the regional level.
Reindeer hunting by humans has a very long history. Humans started hunting reindeer in the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods, and humans are today the main predator in many areas. Siberia, Norway and Greenland have unbroken traditions of hunting wild reindeer from the ice age until the present day. In the non-forested mountains of central Norway, such as Jotunheimen, it is still possible to find remains of stone-built trapping pits, guiding fences, and bow rests, built especially for hunting reindeer. These can, with some certainty, be dated to the Migration period, although it is not unlikely that they have been in use since the Stone Age.
In the traditional lifestyle of Siberian indigenous people reindeer remains an important source of food, clothing, shelter and tools.
Several Arctic and Subarctic people including the Sami and the Nenets have herded reindeer for centuries. They are raised for their meat, hides, and antlers and, to a lesser extent, for milk and transportation. Reindeer are not considered fully domesticated, as they generally roam free on pasture grounds. In traditional nomadic herding, reindeer herders migrate with their herds between coast and inland areas according to an annual migration route, and herds are keenly tended. Although reindeer were not bred in captivity, they were selected based also on behavioural characteristics and the annual gathering. They were tamed for milking as well as for use as draught animals or as beast of burden.
The reindeer has (or has had) an important economic role for all circumpolar peoples, including the Saami, nenets, KhantsEvenks, yukaghirs, Chukchi and Koryaks in Eurasia. It is believed that domestication started between the Bronze and Iron Ages. Siberian deer owners also use the reindeer to ride on (Siberian reindeer are larger than their Scandinavian relatives). For breeders, a single owner may own hundreds or even thousands of animals. The fur and meat is sold, which is an important source of income. The numbers of Russian herders have been drastically reduced since the fall of the Soviet Union. Several indigenous peoples communities are in the most difficult situation. Due to the "creative interpretation" of various perestroika and privatization laws by the local and district administration and so-called businessmen, some communities have lost all their reindeer, and even part of its land.
Reindeer meat is popular in the Scandinavian countries. Reindeer meatballs are sold canned. Sautéed reindeer is the best-known dish in Lapland. In Finland, reindeer sausage is sold in supermarkets and grocery stores. Reindeer meat is tender and lean. It can be prepared fresh, but also dried, salted, hot-and cold-smoked.
In addition to meat, almost all internal organs of reindeer can be eaten, some for traditional dishes.
Reindeer antler is powdered and sold as an aphrodisiac, nutritional or medicinal supplement to Asian markets.
As migratory species and the dramatic decline and enormous threats facing reindeer the Bonn convention should play an active role in the conservation of the species.
Strong law enforcement for poaching e.g. heavy fines, as given the range, control will be difficult.
Hunting by indigenous people in a sustainable way can continue. Commercial (industrial) hunting should be stopped and sports hunting better regulated.
Organise international conference on the conservation of reindeer and caribou, to be hosted by the republic of Sakha.
Establish partnership with the major companies active in the tundra/arctic zone; mining companies, oil and gas companies etc.
Establish partnerships between conservationists and indigenous people for the conservation of wild reindeer and the conservation of the indigenous traditional life style.
Numbers are hard to estimate for reindeer and monitoring methods are not uniform. A uniform monitoring system should be developed.
Status reports for all countries/republics within the range of the wild reindeer should be developed prioritising threats and conservation activities.