Fun Reindeer Facts You Should Know


’Tis the season when reindeer get lots of attention, but mostly in their fictional form. The real animal doesn't fly or have a red nose that lights up — but it does have some remarkable qualities that are much more useful for getting through the long arctic winters. We got the scoop on real-life reindeer — also known as caribou — with the help of Glenn Stout, a biologist at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Reindeer and caribou are basically the same animal (there are seven subspecies). In Europe, they're all called reindeer, but in North America, the wild ones are called caribou and the semi-domesticated are referred to as reindeer.

Reindeer are native to the arctic and subarctic regions of the world. They are found in the wild in Russia, North America, Iceland, Greenland, Norway and Finland. Large wild herds can number between 50,000 and 500,000 animals; some small herds in Alaska, however, have only 200 or 300 reindeer.

Wild reindeer migrate between summer and winter ranges, which may be several hundred miles apart, and they don't travel in a straight line, so they end up walking much farther than that. Scientists have recorded them traveling more than 3,000 miles per year, the longest distance of any terrestrial mammal.

Reindeer have been semi-domesticated for 2,000 or 3,000 years. Reindeer herders depend on their animals for food, clothing and milk and also for transportation — they do pull sleds, but, unlike Santa's, only on solid ground.

Domestic reindeer look and act differently from their wild relatives. They're chunkier in shape than wild reindeer, who are designed for long migrations. And their herd behavior is different — when startled, caribou will scatter and run, but domestic reindeer will bunch up instead.


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