The gray wolf is a common predator of reindeer. Unknown. 2005. "Gray_Wolf_in_Grand_Teton_NP-NPS." (image) <>. Accessed 9 April 2009.Reindeer are subject to predatory interactions with other species in their habitat, and calves are especially vulnerable during their first week of life.  Grizzly bears, American black bears, wolverine, lynx, and especially gray wolves comprise the majority of reindeer predators.  Adult reindeer aren't as susceptible until they reach old age and become weakened. One of the main reasons they travel in herds is for safety in numbers, and so more can watch out for potential predators. Thus, they are an essential part of the food chain for these larger carnivorous predators.17 Reindeer are involved in mutualistic interactions with bacteria living in the rumen of their four-chambered stomach, allowing them to break down cellulose that other organisms cannot.  Learn more about this process hereReindeer also exert a negative impact on vegetation through their foraging activities as well as trampling that occurs during migrations of large herds, which kills off much of the natural flora. Due to the harsh arctic climate, re-growth occurs very slowly due to low productivity rates.  Trampling of large herds also destroys the upper horizons of the soil, making it more susceptible to erosion.  Lichen and moss dominated tundra becomes easily converted to steppe-like vegetation.4


 Humans also take advantage of reindeer, and they have been used for meat, fur, and antlers. Reindeer have been hunted by humans for at least 50,000 years.  In years past, hides were used to make jackets, hoods, boots, and tents, and reindeer fat was burned in lamps.  Antlers were also used to make needles, knife handles, sled runners, fishhooks, and other tools.  Within the last several thousand years, peoples of northern Asia and Europe began to catch and domesticate reindeer, using them for milk.  Several ScandinavianReindeer being milked in Finnmark in 1800.  Unknown. 2006. "Reindeer milking." (image). <>. Accessed 9 April 2009., American, and Siberian native cultures centered around herding caribou, and many indigenous people of the arctic still practice reindeer herding. The practice of herding began by scaring away wild reindeer cows just after calving season, and when they ran away the fawns were left behind.  The fawns were then taken and easily tamed.9 Some were also trained to carry riders on their backs and pull sleighs across the snow-covered ground. They are able to pull up to 300 pounds, 50 miles a day, and at 15 miles per hour!2 Before this, dogs were used to pull loads, but reindeer were thought to have advantages such as being able to feed itself, and being able to serve as food for the human if emergency arose.  In blowing wind, it is hard for dogs to travel, but this isn't a problem for the reindeer who are used to harsh conditions.  The deer can pull uphill, down-hill, and on trail or no trail areas where it is even hard for humans to walk through the snow.  This made the reindeer sledge the new form of transportation.11 

LosHawlos. 2007. "Reinterschlitten_in_Russland_um_1900." (image).<>. Accessed 7 April 2009.


More modernly, reindeer have begun to be overhunted, and have lost a large portion of their natural habitats with increasing dam, highway and oil pipeline construction, and also forestry and logging.  When extensive patches of coniferous forests are logged, the reindeer population increases.  However, as this occurs, more predators such as the gray wolf move in because prey are more abundant.15 At one time there were over 10 million reindeer in the north, but now there are less than 500,000.  The worldwide population is thought to only be around 5 million.  In fact, caribou in the U.S with the exception of Alaska are now considered endangered. The only extinct herds are of the woodland species, not the barren ground/Arctic species that are found in Alaska.  In fact, hunting of the woodland caribou is no longer allowed, but poaching still occurs. The largest herds are now found in Alaska, Canada, and Russia. They are also commonly seen in petting zoos and corrals especially around Christmas time.17


            Captive reindeer in corral.  Volk, T. 2002. "Reindeer peters creek 2 AK tjv." (image)


 Semi-domesticated reindeer gain most of their food in the wild and occupy a wide range, but are kept within that area by guard dogs and herders on snowmobiles. They are able to graze freely outdoors, they can mix withStoholm, K. 2007. "Reindeerdrag." (image). <>.  Accessed 7 April 2009. wild populations of reindeer.  To prevent this cross-breeding, measures such as setting up deer fences and protected areas have been taken to preserve the genetic identity of the wild species.  It is during the summer that the reindeer are herded together and the new calves are marked on the ears.  After the rut in fall they are also rounded up and  separated into those to be slaughtered and those to be kept for breeding.  Most slaughtered deer are calves.16


Even today in reindeer territory, reindeer are slaughtered for meat.  Various foods such as soups, stews, roasts, steaks, and cold cuts are made.  The meat is lean and low in fat, and in many cases is dried, salted, or smoked.  Reindeer milk is rare, but can be drunk, dried and used in coffee, or used to prepare ice cream and in years past, butter.16


Check out this link for an authentic reindeer recipe!

That's not all!  Check out some little known interesting facts about reindeer next!



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