The image that comes to mind when we think of reindeer is probably that of a group of splendid animals with large antlers (not horns) resting in a snowy mountain expanse, between high peaks and a few wooden cabins. Or we imagine them flying through the sky while pulling Santa’s sleigh.
In both cases, however, whether it’s the cold North or the Christmas sky… these are fairy tales, unfortunately. Oh yes, because to date the reindeer have not seen that white and welcoming habitat for quite a while. Perhaps you’re more likely to find them flying through the sky as they haul presents for children around the world.
Let’s try to get to know their characteristics together.
Reindeer, also known as caribou (Rangifer tarandus) and are majestic ungulates that inhabit the cold areas of our planet, such as Norway, Finland, Siberia, Greenland, Alaska and Canada. Reindeer are very ancient animals… they even survived several ice ages. In fact, the first findings date back to the Pleistocene era (from about 1.8 million years ago until 11,500 BC). Just think that many of the species that lived in those centuries went extinct, while reindeer have always adapted and have survived to this day.
Did you know that both male and female reindeer have antlers? It is the only species of deer in which both sexes have antlers (which can even be more than one meter high!)
And did you know that reindeer really do have red noses like Rudolph? This is due to the fact that their nose is extremely specialized: in fact, there are many turbinates which increase the surface of the nose, supplied by numerous veins. In this way the cold air that enters is heated inside the nostrils!
FootprintBeing an ungulate, what can be seen on the ground are the hooves, or rather the V-shaped “nails”, with the two spurs on the back, which appear as two dots. Let’s imagine we’re looking for a deer’s footprint, to get an idea.
Vocalization: listen here
Conservation status: To date, the IUCN places reindeer in a condition of vulnerability regarding the risks of extinction. This is because for reindeer, habitat changes due to forestry and industrial developments, especially for roads and railways lead to changes in vegetation and vulnerability to predation, as do energy plants and tourist resorts. All this often represents a barrier for reindeer migrations and is therefore responsible for the fragmentation of the population.A fragmented population is a fragile and endangered population, further challenged by unregulated hunting and competition with domesticated reindeer.The situation is more critical as the rapid effects of climate change change the availability of forage, the times of snowmelt, freezing and ice breakup, as well as the problems caused by insects and the different consequences of climate change are aggravated on reindeer fertility and survival rates. In short, a dramatic event is enough to wipe out several reindeer populations at the same time and this would prevent the recovery, with the extinction of the populations, thus leading to a strong impact on the Arctic ecosystems.
What can you do to protect them?Awareness of the risk of extinction and vulnerability of a species is already a big step forward for its conservation. What’s more, every day, in our small way, we can do a lot to decrease our impact on climate change. From choosing the foods we eat, the clothes we buy, the means of transport we use, the energy we have at home. Everything is part of a big picture that can help or worsen the situation and the conservation of endangered species such as wild reindeer.Have you ever thought that a hamburger or a fast-fashion T-shirt could endanger reindeer on the other side of the world?