Reindeer, as they are known in Europe and Asia, and Caribou in North America, are large deer adapted to Arctic conditions.
All about the Caribou (or Reindeer)
- They are the only deer in which male and females both have antlers—though these are larger in the males than females and only some females have them.
- They live in huge herds as both resident and migratory populations.
- As summer approaches, many reindeer herds of tens or even hundreds of thousands head north along well trodden annual routes. Some populations migrate the furthest of any terrestrial mammal, traveling up to 5,000 km a year.
- During migration, herds of cows (females) leave several weeks before the males, who follow with yearling calves from the previous birthing season.
- Normally travelling about 19–55 km a day while migrating, the reindeer can run at speeds of 60–80 km/h.
- At the end of their journey, they spend the summer feeding on the abundant grasses and plants of the tundra. In these rich grounds, an adult reindeer can eat 5 kg of food each day.
- Cows have one calf each year, which can stand after only a few minutes and move on with its mother by the next day.
- When the first snows fall each year, they turn back south to spend the winter in more sheltered climes and survive by feeding on lichens.
- Reindeer thrive in cold climates. They have hooves that allow them to easily walk on snow and ice unlike deer and moose. Their hollow hairs give them extra insulation from the extreme cold and give increased buoyancy allowing them to easily float. A reindeer can swim at speeds up to 10 km/h and migrating herds will not hesitate to swim across a large lake or broad river.
- Tendons in the Reindeers’ feet slip over the bones producing a clicking sound. During blizzard conditions, detection of the sound is used to keep the herd together.
- Reindeer have large hooves that are big enough to support the animal’s bulk on snow and to paddle it efficiently through the water. The hoof’s underside is hollowed out like a scoop and used for digging through the snow in search of food. Its sharp edges give the animal good purchase on rocks or ice.
- Reindeer have no internal body clock. The animals are missing a “circadian clock” that influences processes including the sleep-wake cycle and metabolism. This enables them to better cope with the extreme Arctic seasons of polar day, when the sun stays up all day, and polar night, when it does not rise.
- The Grey Wolf is the most effective natural predator of adult reindeer, especially during the winter. Brown Bears and (in the rare cases where they encounter each other) polar bears also prey on reindeer of all ages but are most likely to attack weaker animals such as calves and sick deer. Golden 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.
- Reindeer have been in retreat from humans for decades and numbers are plummeting around the world. The first global review of their status has found that populations are declining almost everywhere they live. It is considered that healthy and abundant caribou populations will not survive in many regions without setting aside large tracts of land free from industrial development.
- Several groups of indigenous Arctic and Sub-Arctic people hunt wild reindeer and herd semi-domesticated reindeer (for meat, hides, antlers, milk and transportation).
- Some scientists believe that the first people to cross the Bering Land Bridge into North America may have been in pursuit of migratory caribou herds.
- Even far outside its range, the reindeer is well known due to the myth, probably originating in early 19th century America, in which Santa Claus’ sleigh is pulled by flying reindeer, a popular secular element of Christmas. These reindeer were first named in the 1823 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” where they are called Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder, and Blixem. Dunder was later changed to Donder and—in other works—Donner (in German, “thunder”), and Blixem was later changed to Bliksem, then Blitzen (German for “lightning”). Some consider Rudolph as part of the group as well, though he was not part of the original group but was added by Robert L. May in 1939 as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”.
- Type: Mammal
- Diet: Herbivore
- Average life span in the wild: 15 years
- Size: 1.2 to 1.5 m at the shoulder
- Weight: 110 to 320 kg
- Diet: Mostly grasses and plants in the summer and lichen and mushrooms during winter
- Habitat: Generally winter in forests and summer in Arctic tundra. Some remaining year-round within boreal forest or make smaller movements up and down mountain range
- Range: Northern regions of North America, Europe, Asia, and Greenland
- Scientific name: Rangifer tarandus