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Facts about Rangifer Tarandus (Caribou) на русском

Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus)

The reindeer ( Rangifer tarandus ) AKA caribou is a species of mammal in the deer family (Cervidae). In Europe, they are called reindeer. In North America, the animals are called caribou if they are wild and reindeer if they are domesticated.

The reindeer is distributed throughout a number of northern locales and is found throughout Scandinavia (including Iceland); in Finland; at Spitsbergen; in Russian Europe including Northern Russia and Novaya Zemlya; in Russian Asia, to the Pacific Ocean; in North America on Greenland, Canada and Alaska. In 1952 reindeer were re-introduced to Scotland, as the natural stock had become extinct in the 10th century.

caribour deer in winter

Domesticated reindeer are mostly found in Northern Scandinavia and Russia, and wild reindeer are mostly found in North America, Greenland and Iceland (introduced by man in 19th century). The last wild reindeer in Europe are found in habitats in southern Norway. Its natural occurrence is approximately bounded within the 62° latitude.

Reindeer have been raised in captivity for centuries in Finland, but are not considered fully domesticated, being referred to as "captive bred". They are raised for their meat, milk, hides, and antlers, and for transportation. The use of reindeer as semidomesticated livestock in Alaska was introduced in the late 1800s by Sheldon Jackson as a means of providing a livelihood for Native peoples there. A regular mail run in Wales, Alaska used a sleigh drawn by reindeer.

The Laplanders, who use trained reindeer extensively to pull sleighs, use a measurement called poronkusema which loosely translates into "reindeer piss". This is because a reindeer cannot urinate when it is pulling a sled and is prone to urinary tract clogging if it is not allowed to urinate with regularity. A poronkusema is generally 10 to 15 kilometers or about 30 minutes of riding.

In Alaska, reindeer herders use satellite telemetry to track their herds, using online maps and databases to chart the herd's progress.


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The Importance of Reindeer

Long before the old times, reindeer is considered as one of the most important animals to man throughout Arctic Scandinavia and Russia. Reindeer help the man to enable them to live and survive the tough environment in the said countries. Reindeer are considered the toughest animals at that time that can help human being in making their life quite easy in doing daily task. Common livestock animals like horses and cows cannot stay alive on the harsh weather and climatic conditions in Arctic places hence they were unable to utilize by the people.

Reindeer are said to be the first hoofed animal that have been domesticated. There have been painting of reindeer in the caves that were said to be made 25,000 to 30,000 years ago that depicted the importance of reindeer in their existence. In one Chinese source dated way back A.D. 499, it had been revealed that domesticated reindeer have existed.

caribou deer

Reindeer are useful and functional in many ways. They are usually bred for their meat and are considered as staple food in the diet of many northern people on Europe and North. The reindeer’s meat can be eaten fresh but they are usually preserved by smoking and drying. Milk obtained form reindeer is not as many as with cow’s milk but the butter fat content of reindeer’s milk is four times as rich compared to butter fat found in ordinary cow’s milk. Reindeer’s milk is usually used for making cheese, butter and yoghurt.

The reindeer’s skin have been long utilized and made into clothing that can be worn even in temperate climates. The skin from the reindeer’s head cape can be utilized in making non-skid leather used for the soles of shoes intended for walking on ice. Reindeer’s hair has been imported and used in weaving to create expensive dress materials. Reindeer’s hides are utilized to fill upholsteries and as material in woolen stuffs. Reindeer sinew thread is perfect for sewing canoes or repairing boots because the sinew swells hence, provide impermeable seams that will not tear or damage the leather.

The antlers of reindeer are carved into knives and other household crafts. Nowadays, the antlers are pulverized or powdered and imported as medicinal supplements and taken as aphrodisiacs in some Asian countries. Even the tails of reindeer are utilized and transformed in the production of shaving brushes.

The practical value and importance of reindeer are not limited to its meat and skin because reindeer are known to be a trainable animal. Trained reindeer can pull goods; carry packs and even pull people on sleds. Children can safely ride in reindeer. Reindeer can now be found even in zoos and animals parks. There are some reindeer that are very friendly and few may follow people about. The great benefit in keeping and breeding reindeer is that they can find their own basic food even under snow and other extreme conditions because they are resourceful. They can vary and change their diet according to the season. Raising reindeer do not necessitate a shelter ad they are known to be a natural wanderer.


Reindeer’s Calendar Routine

  1. January and February. During this season of snow, reindeer eagerly dig and search lichens for their food. Reindeer’s big feet help them to protect from the coldness of the snow and to walk through the snow without the danger of sinking or going to deep.
  2. March. On this month of the year, the new antlers of the male reindeer start to grow. The budding antlers are relatively tender and can be easily damaged. On the other hand, the female reindeer and their calves still have their antlers during this month.
  3. April. Throughout this month the male reindeer’s antlers are growing continuously and they also tend to isolate from the main herds to avoid aggressive female reindeer. This is also the period when the two-year old male reindeer leave their mother and their younger siblings to join the group of male reindeer.
  4. May. This is known as the reindeer calving season when newly born reindeer calves are seen running with their mother as soon as they are born. Young reindeer calves are known to be very intelligent and strong young animals as they can keep up with migrating herds. The antlers of female reindeer are usually shedding by this time but some female have already started to grow their new antlers.
  5. June. On this month reindeer shed off their winter clothes leaving a short, dark and sleek summer coat giving them a more gorgeous appearance. The reindeer, affected by summer heat and flies which are their enemies will go to the hill or semi-permanent snow fields found high in Cairngorms. Their food at this time is mainly grass, bilberry and heather. This is also the period when the young calves have their budding antlers.
  6. July. This month together with August is likely to be the hottest period. The reindeer usually lost their good condition because of incurred insect bites during the hot summer days. They rush off to snow fields to escape the summer heat and pestering bites of flies and mosquito.
  7. August. The antlers of the male reindeer are fully grown at this month and splinted from the underlying bone.
  8. September. During this month it is usual to see the male reindeer fighting to gain their dominance and prepare for rutting season. It is also the month where the feeding habit of reindeer became more active as they search for mushrooms that grow on the dry ridges.
  9. October. In this month the rut is in full bloom. The reindeer look elegant because the lighter winter coats are coming out.
  10. November. In this winter season, reindeer is protected by their thick coats that allow them to have the insulation to maintain balance in their temperature and they continue to dig on with the snow to find their foods.
  11. December. In this cold breezing month, the old male reindeer were starting to shed off their antlers. This is also the month where the female reindeer are leading and dominant over the male reindeer because the female still have their antlers. They used their antlers to compete for food during winter.

Reindeer Reproduction and Breeding

During the rutting period, the male reindeer usually form a harem and produce grunting sounds.

reindeer mating

The prenuptial play of the male reindeer show trait of stiff-legged gait and will lays back his antlers. They also tend to raise their muzzle, curl up their nose and sniff the female reindeer. Gestation period of reindeer is about seven to eight months. The calves are usually born single but there times that a twin calves may come out. The reindeer calves are usually born in the last week of April until the mid month of June.

At birth, the calf usually weight around four to eight kilograms and can walk immediately after two hours. Reindeer calves have an even brown color and do not have any spots. The young calf nurses to her mother for five months and then will commonly join the rest of the herds in the fall migration. But there are some calves that preferred to be with their mother for more than one year or until three years.

The sexual maturities of calf are usually attained in the autumn season of their second year. In the country of origin of reindeer their reproduction rate is quite high and the absence of slaughtering could increase faster their reproduction. The milk produce by reindeer has similarity of those produce by seals and whales because the growth of their young is mostly done in cold climates. The normal reindeer can live up to 15 years. But according to research, a domesticated reindeer can live up to 25 to 28 years old. Likewise, domesticated reindeer are relatively smaller than those reindeer found in the wild.

The domesticated male reindeer in northern Europe are commonly castrated when they reach the age of four or older because they tend to cause disturbance in the herd when rutting. For over some decades, reindeer breeding programs were initiated. There are some programs that have tried to cross breed the reindeer with red deer using artificial inseminations which were adapted to two female reindeer with red deer semen. The result of the crossbreed test is unsuccessful. European reindeer have been also hybridized with wood land caribou subspecies but the offspring is generally larger and bulky self-reliant animal that do not possessed prominent look of reindeer. However, researchers continue to crossbreed reindeer with caribou. This was done for the purpose of improving the commercial and economic potential of the deer as well as to extend reindeer farming.


Reindeer Food and Diet

Generally the diet and eating habit of reindeer varies with the season. The reindeer can adapt to the available foods in particular climatic conditions and this is the main reason why reindeer can survive and manage to grow and feed themselves even in extreme conditions. In winter season reindeer usually eat a special type of plant called lichen. Lichen is composed of two different organisms such as fungus and algae that are mutually beneficial to each other. Lichens are said to be very slow growing but a very ideal and nutritious source of energy for reindeer.

During autumn, when lichen seems to be unpalatable and the mushrooms are abounding, the reindeer’s feed mostly from mushrooms. The appetite of reindeer is this season is quite big. Research says that reindeer can actually consume considerable number of mushrooms during the month of July and August.

It is in summer when the reindeer eat grasses, cotton, leaves and twigs of bushes, bulbs and shoots of shrubs. When reindeer passed to a captive environment that prohibits them to browse for their usual foods they eat alfalfa hay and sometimes herbivorous pellet supplement is added. Reindeer also thrive sometimes on vegetables on this area when there are no other foods available.

Red deer and caribou usually eat their horns after shedding. The reason for this manner is they’re craving for a taste of salt and other mineral substances that are pretty normal for herbivorous animals. Research says that if calcium and other minerals can be eaten from the soil most likely the reindeer will not eat their antlers. When reindeer ate in group there is a remarkable continuous low grunting among the cows, and calves.


Reindeer Distribution and Population

The earliest known caribou or reindeer lived in Europe and North America during the Pleistocene Epoch that is equivalent to about one million years ago. But in general, the previous recorded global or world distribution of the reindeer included Spitsbergen, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Scotland and the so called USSR which comprise the whole European and Asian regions of north of 50N latitude. Reindeer are likewise to be found in north-eastern China and Mongolia. There are also considerable quantities of reindeer in North America as far as south as Idaho, North Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan and Maine, alongside the whole southern, western and northern coasts of Greenland.

The reindeer in Finland were eradicated in the nineteenth century and in the early twentieth century; the Svalbard reindeer was almost eliminated in Spitsbergen. However, there have been reindeer movements seen across the USSR edges and small reindeer population are still thought to exist in eastern Finland.

In Norway, all its southern mountainous areas have around 42,000 estimated wild reindeer. And averages of 200,000 domesticated reindeer are present in the northern Norway. On the Koala Peninsula located in the previous USSR only around 100 reindeer are known to survive because of massive reindeer extermination in 1930. But due to the conservation effort done in 1968, the quantity of reindeer in that area had reach 20,000 during 1970.

There were also about 20,000 reindeer in the Novaya Zemlya but because of excessive demand for reindeer, there are just few numbers remaining at current situation. But all in all, the most recorded population of reindeer in the entire world was found in USSR. The wild reindeer in that region were estimated to reach more than 800,000 with the addition of whopping over 2.5 million domesticated reindeer.

tame reindeer

Between the periods of 16 years from 1771 to 1787 the domesticated reindeer were brought and introduced in Iceland. The domesticated reindeer were sent and allowed to live in wild and their population immediately multiply after just a short period. But the reindeer population in Iceland became steady at 3000 which is attributed to food competition from other domestic livestock as horses and sheeps.

Scotland imported around 29 reindeer between the years of 1952 and 1954. These reindeer came from the Swedish mountains. Then, more forest type reindeer later arrived in Scotland. Southern Norway also exported few reindeer in Scotland afterwards. After eighteen years since the first introduction of imported reindeer in Scotland, there were about 100 increases in herds that allowed further reindeer to be sold in zoos and other private collectors. An experimental group of reindeer was further brought in a new site located in Scottish Highlands on early 1990 with the aim of creating a second reindeer herd outside Cairngorms. Other efforts to bring and introduce reindeer in countries like Germany, Austria and the Orkneys were also executed to promote the reindeer population but unfortunately reindeer brought in these countries were unable to adapt themselves and soon died.

Reindeer outside Europe were not very significant in number. In Greenland, there were estimated around 15,000 reindeer in 1983 which was the yield of domesticated reindeer that was introduced last 1952. The 1974 population of reindeer in Bank Islands located in Canada is roughly between 5,300 to 8,000 reindeer. And in western Queen Elizabeth Islands, 4,000 reindeer was approximately living in 1974.


Reindeer Distinct Characteristics

Reindeer are natural creations blessed with magnificent winter coat that provides not only beauty to every reindeer but also enable them adapt to live the difficult conditions of climate in Arctic areas. The reindeer have coat that is very noticeable because of its dense and compactness. They have long hollow hairs under laid by short, dense and soft wooly fur. The winter coat of reindeer also serves as materials for ample products that man can utilized over times.

Although reindeer present a great amount of racial and individual variation, the coloration of reindeer is predominantly brownish with white or light under parts, where inner legs and buttocks and winter coats are somewhat lighter. The ears and tails of reindeer are usually short and their throat is maned. Among other antler animals only the reindeer’s breed has antlers for both male and female. Because normally in the antler cycle only male grows their antlers. Antlers are essential to reindeer because this help them to compete for food during winter season.

A special feature of reindeer’s body is the heat exchange system. This allows the warm blood of reindeer to flow from the heart and heats the cold blood back to its limit. The good effect of this system is the heats are kept within the body of the reindeer.

The reindeer coat provides excellent insulation that works like a thermos flask, which means that cold cannot pass through inside their body. This also prevents heat to be released from their body. This coat special feature makes them have the characteristic to stand the coldness of the snow in Arctic countries. When they lie on snow, reindeer are well insulated that though there bodies are warm it cannot possibly melt down the snow. It is a natural occurrence that can only be seen in reindeer. The bed of snow is a comfortable place for reindeer to lie down.

The nose of reindeer is completely hairy or entirely covered by hair. These hairs around the reindeer’s nose keep them extremely warm while eating down through the snow. The warm and moist air being exhaled does not freeze on the nose because reindeer have nasal passages that warmed the air entering the lungs and cooled on the way out to prevent any heat loss.

Reindeer have also the ability to not sink deeply while walking over a deep snow or mushy ground because they possess large splayed hooves. This splayed hooves work to spread the load in reindeer’s body. According to the research each and every reindeer hoof can able to transmit a smaller pressure per square centimeter on the surface relative to the reindeer’s boy weight than most other hoofed animals. These hoofed are also well designed for pawing down through the snow to reach the lichen. Reindeer have hairs at the tip of their legs that grow long over and between each cleft hoof that prevent the reindeer from slipping on ice. As reindeer walk, a clicking sound is created by tendon slipping over a bone in the foot.


Reindeer Conservation

The useful value and the economic benefit derived from reindeer have caused to the rapid decreased in the number of its wild species. The introductions of domesticated reindeer are also some of the factor for the decline of their continuous existence aside from the excessive and over hunting of wild reindeer.

Various governments including its agencies noticed the substantial need of protecting the breed of reindeer in order to maintain their existence in the natural environment. This problem was addressed way back in 1902 in Norway. Since then, many countries followed and created programs that aimed to protect and conserve the reindeer. In 1925, Spitsbergen professed its support in protecting the reindeer. In 1927 the country of Greenlands promulgates hunting laws to regulate the hunting and killing of reindeer. In some other countries though they protect reindeer they allow the local residents to hunt them. But in the country of Alaska only in reindeer Mount McKinley National Park are protected particularly in Mount McKinley National Park. The locals there are permitted to hunt reindeer for their consumption.

Most research says that hunting law is not sufficient to protect the reindeer. According to the expert, an establishment of reserves will compliment the hunting law in effectively protecting the habitat of reindeer. They also promote and educate the concern citizens that interbreeding of wild reindeer with domesticated animals must be avoided for safety reasons. The Cairngorn Reindeer Centre in Scotland continues to protect the breeds of reindeer in their nation and nowadays, as part of educating the human population about the conservation of reindeer, Cairngorn Reindeer Centre even offer tours in their center with free exhibition and a small shop to buy souvenirs.


Reindeer Behavior

Reindeer are energetic and spirited animals. They possess combination of shyness and curiosity on their environment. When reindeer are alarmed the adult usually moan and their fawns grunt. But nevertheless they are spirited animals blessed with a beautiful winter coat. Caribou are said to be difficult to chase but once caught they easily follow their master and can be handled easily. Domesticated reindeer are usually very gentle but during rutting when bulls can become dangerous.

Reindeer do not usually wander from one place to another of different areas because they rather stroll from place to place. On taking this journey of migrations they usually swim rivers, lakes and streams. A research says that a reindeer can make a travel up to 37 miles per hour over a daily distance of about 96 miles.

In the past, reindeer are gathered in group of hundreds and thousands so they can fully migrate from treeless area to forest or timber areas. Most of the summer time, the tundra reindeer stay near on the coast of the Arctic Ocean but once the winter comes in they immediately start to migrate in forest nearby country. Caribou when making their migrations usually followed the same routes every year. The reason on this the same route is because the herds are capable of using trails or marks. The trails they left are said to be very visible on the ground as well as from the air.

In general, reindeer and caribou are highly sociable and outgoing animals but there are certain periods of season when they are sexually segregated. During summer adult male reindeer are isolated from the females and young calves and will only join the herds during the time of rutting that occurs in September and October. The male reindeer usually shed off their antlers after the period of rutting. Their antlers grew back sometime in April. The female reindeer retain their antlers during the winter and they shed off only after giving birth to their young reindeer.

Deer Websites

Reindeer (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

How reindeer evolved to survive freezing Arctic winters

Deer Quiz (entertaining)