Wild Tracks

On behalf of the world's wild species

Reindeer Decline – Is Rudolph In Trouble?

Canadian caribou

Canadian caribou

Millions of adults and children across the continent can recite Rudolph The Red-nosed Reindeer in its entirety. It is as much a part of the holiday season as gifts and highly decorated trees.

The real life Rudolphs in the world are called reindeer or caribou, and their numbers are declining around the world,

Reindeer and caribou all belong to the same species. Caribou live in Canada, Alaska and Greenland, while reindeer live in Russia, Norway, Sweden and Finland.

Historically, these animals have been incredibly important to indigenous groups in the north. Unfortunately it is now growing trickier for the deer to live in a world growing hotter from climate change, and altered by industrial development.

Vors and Mark Boyce at the University of Alberta contacted other researchers around the globe and researched reports and government statistics for all the data they could find about reindeer and caribou populations. They stockpiled information on 58 major herds in the Northern Hemisphere.

The scientists were stunned to find that 34 of the herds were falling, while no information was available for 16 others. Only eight herds saw an increase in population. A few herd’s numbers had been falling at least a decade.

Climate change is the most important factor in the decline of Arctic caribou and reindeer, while habitat loss is the most important threat to non-migratory woodland caribou.

The climate change means much warmer summers, which causes more insect activity, and caribou and reindeer that are bothered by bugs cannot feed as well to put on weight prior to winter. Springs that arrive earlier mean plants are dying when the migrating animals reach them, while the freezing rains of the warmer winters create ice on the ground. The caribou and reindeer get to their feeding areas, and then starve.

There likely will be more forest fires in woodland caribou habitat, as well as diseases and parasites transmitted to caribou from white-tailed deer, whose range is expanding northward in Canada. More roads are being built in the Arctic, as well as infrastructures like diamond mines, and these sometimes interfere with migration routes.

The habitat and the climate are changing too quickly for these animals to adapt. Unless something is done soon, all seven sub-species of caribou/reindeer will eventually die off.

Yes, Rudolph is indeed in trouble.

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