While we don’t have any reindeer down at Kentish Town City Farm, it’s the time of year to learn all about these wonderful animals!
Reindeer are Real!
Reindeer, or rangifer tarandus, are a species of deer found in the Arctic Tundra, and adjacent boreal forest nations of Greenland, Scandinavia, Russia, Alaska, and Canada. They have been domesticated mainly in Europe, particularly in the north of Finland, in the Lapland region. There are two types of reindeer, tundra reindeer and forest reindeer.
Tundra reindeer are much more numerous, migrating in huge herds of up to half a million in an annual cycle between tundra and forest areas. Male reindeer can be more than four feet tall at the shoulder, and weigh more than 550 pounds. Females are a little bit smaller. They have cloven hoofs, like cows, so their feet are able to spread out on soft ground and snow without sinking or hurting themselves. Reindeer’s fur shifts colour through the year, from brown in the summer to white in the winter. Male reindeer can grow antlers of up to 1.4 metres long, with up to 44 points. They are also the only deer species where females are able to grow antlers! Males lose their antlers after their October rut, when after four years of age they fight each other for a mate. Female reindeer keep their antlers all winter, allowing them to defend their food sources. Antlers grow back annually, and get bigger every year.
Reindeer are the only deer species to have hair that completely covers their noses! This helps to warm cold winter air before it enters their lungs, and also heightens their sense of smell. This helps when hunting for food under the snow. Reindeer like to travel into the wind, to help them pick up all the scents around them. In the summer, reindeer eat grass, sedges, green leaves on shrubs, new larch, willow, and birch growths, and mushrooms. In winter, reindeer actually slow down their metabolisms and rely on lichens called reindeer moss, which are high in carbohydrates and sustain them through the snowy months. Reindeer moss is found by digging down through the snow. Domesticated reindeer also enjoy vegetable snacks!
Reindeer are extremely important animals to traditional herding communities, such as the Sami of Scandinavia and Russia, where they are kept as pack and draft animals, and also used as sources of meat, milk and hides. Antlers are often carved into tools and totems.
Do you believe?
There is a third very rare subspecies of reindeer, rangifer tarandus magicus, who are found only in a very small group living in isolation at the North Pole. It is not known how old these reindeer are, as their number rarely changes, and no fawns have ever been seen. Until 1949, there were eight confirmed members of this group, until a ninth appeared in September of that year. It is not known where this ninth deer came from; the small herd are all females, as evidenced by their keeping their antlers until past Christmas, and no known male rangifer trandus magicus are known to exist. This ninth reindeer is often celebrated in literature and music due to its well documented genetic abnormality of a red, bioluminescent nose.
While scientists have attempted to study this mysterious subspecies, they are always chased away by the reindeer’s protectors, a little-known Norse tribe called huldufólk, or ‘hidden folk’. The huldufólk live without electricity as they are so far from the electric grid, but appear to have harnessed power from the aurora borealis. They live with the reindeer group in warm, spacious wooden buildings, ensuring they are extremely well-cared for. The huldufólk appear to be led by an equally mysterious man, known only as Sinterklaas.
While the huldufólk never leave their village, Sinterklaas leaves once a year, accompanied by the reindeer, and is rumoured to leave gifts made by the huldufólk for small children under trees and in shoes. Sinterklaas and the reindeer are in turn thanked for their generosity, and given gifts of milk, cookies, and carrots, before returning to their mysterious home at the North Pole.
- Reindeer cover as much as 3,000 miles in their annual migration.
- Reindeer live for about fifteen years in the wild, or twenty years in captivity.
- In North America, reindeer are commonly known as caribou.
- Male deer are known as bucks, stags, bulls, or harts.
- Females are known as doe, cows, or hinds.
- Small deer species babies are fawns; larger species are known as calves.
- Very small deer babies are called kids.
- Reindeer are really fast – they can run at speeds of up to 48mph