Ho, Ho, Ho. The declining reindeer population is no joke.
Meanwhile, reindeer populations in Finland, Sweden, Norway, Alaska, Russia, Mongolia, and China are also declining, according to a study by researchers at Beijing’s Renmin University. They say the population in China has decreased by 28 percent since the 1970s.
The Chinese researchers cited six major factors for the decline, including inbreeding (leading to genetic deterioration), poaching (for antlers), and natural predators, such as bears, wolves, and lynx, which kill up to a third of all reindeer calves each year. A dwindling number of reindeer herders and breeders, climate change, and an influx of tourists (putting reindeer at risk from traffic) were other reasons.
“(Reindeer are) in serious trouble,” warned Jeff Flocken of the International Wildlife Fund, citing climate change as the primary culprit back in 2012. “Caribou across the world are all found in the northern hemisphere in these cold temperatures (and) are declining. . . . an average decline of about 60 percent from historic highs. And these in the most northern part are even in more trouble. . . . It’s climate change. The temperature, the weather, and the landscape are all changing in the Arctic.”
There might also be a snowball effect. Researchers in Finland have found that grazing by reindeer can help prevent solar heat absorption which can lead to climate change. Areas where reindeer did not graze had higher levels of heat radiation thanks to the prevalence of shrubs and trees.
Here in the continental U.S., reindeer are of the plastic variety.
Here are ten fun facts about Santa’s fast and furry companions.
- Reindeer and caribou are one and the same (though reindeer don’t have their own coffee company).
- Reindeer are herbivores. They generally munch lichen, grass, and plants. (Santa gets all the milk and cookies.)
- Reindeer live up to 15 years in the wild. (Dancer, Prancer, and Vixen are considerably older.)
- Both male and female reindeer have antlers, some up to three feet tall. Like snowflakes, no two antlers are identical.
- Reindeer run up to 50 mph (much faster on Christmas Eve).
- Reindeer have wide hooves with sharp outer edges, designed to dig for food in snow (and better ball control during Reindeer Games).
- Reindeer hair is hollow, enabling it to trap air for insulation (Comet and Cupid never wear parkas).
- Reindeer can’t really fly. But they can swim in rivers and the ocean up to six mph.
- Originally, Dunder and Blixem in Dutch, they became known as Donner and Blitzen, meaning Thunder and Lightning in German.
- Reindeer can migrate thousands of miles. The National Weather Service tracks them on Christmas Eve.