Reindeer: Species Spotlight

In 2018, I was lucky enough to work alongside the freeroaming herd of reindeer in the Cairngorm National Park, Scotland. This Christmas, I think that we should all try and learn a few things about these incredible creatures, to help our environmental education and also to wow our families when we sit down to Christmas dinner! Reindeer are amazing and we can all learn together that they do far more than pull Santa’s sleigh!

Reindeer are found in Northern Europe, Northern America and Siberia – although in Northern America they are known as Caribou. They are wandering animals and rarely stay in one place for very long, covering vast distances to graze the land. They live in herds that can be very large in numbers and they are a wild and domesticated species. 

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas… but before the reindeer take flight this year, let’s learn a little bit more about them.

This was originally written for Small World, Big Cause in 2018, but bought to you fresh and fine, for The Curious Environmentalist. Enjoy 🙂

Species Spotlight: Reindeer

If you are based in the UK can you visit the free-roaming herd that I am volunteering with. Simply search: Cairngorm Reindeer for more info.

They are classed as a “vulnerable” species by the IUCN Red List, this means that they are not endangered but are close to being if we do not watch their number. There are projects in place to help prevent them becoming endangered by working with the local people, in the areas where the Reindeer live, to help them reduce their impact on the environment whilst still maintaining their way of life.

Did you know? Antlers can be found on both male and female Reindeers – depending on the sub-species. Reindeers are the only species of deer where this is the case.

Reindeers are herbivores, eating mostly lichen, funghi and leaves. They are able to forage even in snowy conditions due to their great sense of smell and their thick skin and fur which allows them to survive the cold, harsh winters.

Females usually give birth to a single calf which is on its feet within minutes of being born and can even be running faster than an average human within 30 minutes! Adult reindeers can run at speeds up to 36-48mph for up to 20 miles, which is amazing! The mother will protect the calf and raise it to adulthood, however the whole herd will take responsibility to protect the young from predators such as Golden Eagles – which are able to carry a newborn away in its talons if it finds the opportunity.

Reindeers have become an iconic image associated with Christmas, as they are what flies Santa’s sleigh around the world to deliver presents. Their place within our society is set in stone by this association. The first known reference to Santa’s reindeer is in a booklet from 1821 called “A New Year’s Present”. However, the idea behind the reindeer pulling the sleigh most likely came from Nordic mythology and spread from there with the help of stories, poems and of course the famous Christmas carol! Their place within our  festive celebrations will no doubt help them to keep away from extinction, but we must always remain aware of what effect our actions are having on the natural world – for the reindeer and for the other species that share this planet with us.


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