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Also known as caribou, they form vast herds over the Arctic plains

What you need to know about the Reindeer

Our Expert Says… "Almost all the reindeer herds in existence today have had close relationships with humans for thousands of years. As people learned to follow and then drive the herds and take some of the animals for meat, they also helped to protect the reindeer from predators like wolves who might threaten this source of food. It's for this reason that this almost symbiotic relationship has developed, a precursor to true domestication of animals."

The reindeer is known as the caribou in North America. They are found in the arctic and sub-arctic areas of North American, Europe, and Russia in habitats including forests, mountains, and tundra. There are more than 15 sub-species of reindeer currently recognized.

Wild reindeer can be migratory and sedentary and their herding habits vary by location. There is a migrating herd of Siberian reindeer almost 1 million strong for example, although North American caribou populations seem to be under pressure, with herd sizes down to under 10,000.

Some of the North American sub-species can claim to have the longest migrations of any land mammal, covering over 3,000 miles every year. As well as long-distance stamina, reindeer can move quickly when they need to. Adults can run at up to 50mph, and even day-old calves could outsprint Usain Bolt!

Reindeer have special adaptations to survive in harsh Arctic weather. One such is that the arteries and veins in their legs are closely intertwined, allowing the returning cooler blood in the veins to lower the temperature of the arterial blood. This method of heat exchange minimizes the amount of heat the caribou loses through the skin, enabling them to regulate their body temperature in greater extremes of weather than other mammals.

Male reindeer bulls are larger than females, typically weighing around 400lb and standing up to 60” at the shoulder. There is a sub-species called the Svalbard Reindeer that is much smaller, typically standing half the size at the shoulder compared to other sub-species.

Reindeer has always been an important resource for native Arctic peoples. They are hunted for meat, fur, and antler across their whole range. North American caribou were not traditionally herded, whereas the northern European reindeer was and is the world’s only semi-domesticated deer, having been herded for centuries by various native peoples, including the Sami.

Reindeer: Pictures & Videos


Spots where the Reindeer can be observed

Our trips to spot the Reindeer

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