Svalbard Reindeer

During our trip to Spitsbergen we came across the Svalbard Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus platyrhynchus) on many occasions.  It is a relatively small endemic subspecies, and both the male and female have antlers, but those of the males are bigger.

They were driven near to extinction in the early 20th centory due to extensive hunting, but have recovered very well and can now be found in most parts of the archipelago.  Mating is in October, and during this time strong bulls will defend a harem of up to ten cows. The proportion of females that give birth varies strongly from 10 percent in difficult years, and up to 90 percent in good times with lots of food.

They will eat almost anything that has roots and leaves, and during the short summer they spend most of the time feeding to accumulate a thick layer of fat, which is their main energy source for the long winter when food availability is low.  One of their favourite foods are the droppings of the Barnacle goose, which are only able to extract 30% of the nutrition of their food intake.

As is illustrated in above photo, the Svalbard reindeer can be very curious and sometimes approach humans to a distance of within 10 meters, and often they are undecided between running away or coming closer.   In this case a small herd passed us at a distance of less than 15 meters, which was the highlight of the afternoon.

Some of the males have very impressive antlers, as can be seen here, and often curious!



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