Jonas joined our herd from Sweden in 2011 when we brought over a contingent of bulls to boost the genetics in our own herd. We had to make a decision the next year to which reindeer we would keep as bulls and breed from and which ones we would geld/castrate and have as Christmas reindeer. Jonas never made it to being a bull, which maybe in hindsight is a shame cos he has got a lovely nature. However we cant live off hindsight and to be completely honest he has just made the most wonderful Christmas reindeer… Possibly the perfect Christmas reindeer in his own right.
Although the first couple of years he was still very much learning the ropes alongside our already trained reindeer he took to wearing a harness, taking part in events across the country and settling back into herd life here on the mountain like a duck to water. When we are away from home at Christmas time it is really important the reindeer travel together and do events as a mini herd. Therefore our teams consist of no less than 4 reindeer. They take comfort in numbers so to take 2 reindeer away on their own means they would have little guidance and therefore uncomfortable in their surroundings. The handlers who work with them all year round know these reindeer very well and also become part of the ‘herd’ on Christmas tour.
After about 2-3 years of taking part in Christmas events Jonas became the role model to younger, less experienced reindeer going out for their first year. Jonas isn’t one to be petted or molly coddled and to be honest most reindeer aren’t. They enjoy company however they don’t want to be fussed. There are exceptions within this of course, however I would say only a handful of reindeer in our herd actually want to be fussed, petted or stroked. Putting on harness and working them is completely different, they treat it as a job and do it with the upmost patience and expertise as long as they get their bowl of food and have the company from the other reindeer they really are fantastic at it. I would sooner take any of our reindeer into a busy event in a city than my dog, their behaviour remains consistent as does their appetite!
So at the age of 9 I wouldn’t hesitate to take Jonas out on tour as one of my most experienced Christmas reindeer. He is pale in colour which makes him very striking within the team. He grows nice, shapely compact antlers suiting travelling in our livestock trucks and pulling the sleigh alongside another Christmas reindeer and he just has the best nature but isn’t a pest by being super tame, in your face and pushy which can come with the nature of a very tame reindeer. All in all I think he’s one of my favourite and definitely understated Christmas reindeer in the herd so here’s hoping I get to work with him again this year!
Which reindeer would you most/least like to go on a night out with?
Fiona = Probably Grunter again, for his same social and fun reasons. But Bovril would be my pick for ‘least like to” as he keeps himself to himself and gets all grumpy at Christmas events. I could have said the same about Paintpot to be fair. I feel like my hyper-ness would not be compatible with their grumpiness.
Hen = I’ll say Puddock because I’m 36 going on 65 and Puddock strikes me as the kind of guy who would just like to stay at home and relax, which is my idea of a great night out! On Friday night we could watch gardener’s world together!! Saying that, I reckon Puddock was wild in his day, so I’d take Puddock in his older age.
Andi = I’d least like to go on a night out with the late Dragonfly because he was so unsociable. In my mind he’d have been the old man lurking in a dark corner, nursing a pint, and answering only in grunts.
Manouk = I’d definitely like to most go out with Ochil because she would keep away any unwanted intruders to my personal space. She has actually been known to kick people in their ‘personal space’. Just ask Bobby…
Chris = Kipling because she’s nice around people and good in big crowds. Unless I wanted to have a fight, then I wouldn’t take Camus with me. He seems to like walking into large crowds then batting people away with his antlers as if they chose to surround him!
Lotti = I think I’d want to go on a night out with Fly. I think she’d be pretty sassy and have some great dance moves on her. I also think she wouldn’t take any grief from creepy men in clubs.
Ben = Boris would be great, he’d be able to look around corners for any potential hotties/spaces in the bar queue.
Dave = *sniggers to himself*. Well, definitely not Camus, he’d be a total maniac in the pub.
Izzy = One of the boys. However, I don’t reckon I’d be able to keep up with some of the younger boys like Celt, Roman or Dr Seuss. They look like they’d drink a lot. Also, I think they’d probably enjoy their mushrooms a bit too much for me as well. Svalbard strikes me as a classic “pub go-er”. I reckon I’d have a good night in the pub with him.
Bobby = Svalbard, he’d be a good wing man.
Nell = Spike. He’s the reindeer who I’ve seen jump the most. I think it’d be quite fun going on a night out with a springy reindeer because that means more dancing.
Who’s the cheekiest/naughtiest reindeer?
Fiona = Well, there used to be a reindeer called Revel who had a habit of sticking his head under ladies skirts and then lifting them up…the skirts not the ladies.
Hen = Oh Celt!!! Surely everyone said Celt?! Celt hasn’t learnt his manners yet. His mum, Camembert, is very polite so I’m not quite sure what happened there! He’s such a wayward son.
Andi = Pagan is certainly a contender. She’s completely unabashed in coming into your personal space and demanding your full attention whether you’re busy or not.
Manouk = Dr. Seuss as I had to wrestle him in front of a whole hill trip when his hormones were the first to kick in during last year’s rut.
Chris = In my first winter it was definitely Dr. Seuss. But now…Olympic may have taken over, cheeky but not overstepping the mark.
Lotti = Ooooo. Probably Dr. Seuss. He’s not too naughty but he’s definitely cheeky.
Ben = Ah man, there’s some definite contenders from the young boys here. But for pure naughtiness it’s gotta be Bond. He’s got little man syndrome. I’ve seen him kick young children, adults and reindeer herders. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in mischievousness.
Dave = Calves seem to be the cheekiest ay. I’ve seen calves full on try to jump and roll over their mums as if they were doing the long jump.
Izzy = Celt, he kicked my water bottle. I had to get Dave to fix it for me, before that the spout didn’t work and I had to drink out of it at such a weird angle.
Sheena = BOBBY! Oh wait what? We need to choose an actual reindeer and not a reindeer herder?
Bobby = Celt, he has absolutely no boundaries.
Nell = Bond, definitely! He’s having a time out from hill trips in the enclosure because he’s been a bit too naughty…so definitely Bond.
Which reindeer would make the best husband/wife?
Fiona = Right, well, I think if you’re going for looks then the best hubby would have been Fergus. That’s Fergus in his prime, not as a calf! I think the best wife would be Caddis, actually nah, she could be pretty brutal. Hippo was probably the most beautiful. But this all sounds so shallow thus far doesn’t it. Right, for personality and reliability it’d be Topi for hubby and Dixie for wifey. They’re the attributes that really matter! I can’t think of any reindeer that has the full package mind.
Hen = Probably Olympic, he’s just sooooo friendly. I can imagine that he’d definitely do his share of the washing up. The Svalbard’s and Stenoa’s of this world, you know that they’d be the ones who would just sit in front of the T.V. with a beer.
Andi = Olympic…he’s steadfast, loyal and genial. And for an added bonus, his breeding days are far behind him.
Manouk = Ryvita. She’s such a loyal mother so I think she’d be such a loyal wife.
Chris = Definitely not Kota if you were after a monogamous relationship.
Lotti = I think that Cheese would make a good wife. I think she’s got a strong sense of family, which is very important. She’s always seen hanging around with her family so she’s obviously quite loyal. She’s also a bit cheeky and fun which would be good as a life partner.
Ben = Compatible personalities are everything in a relationship, and Lace has such great character. But she’s also so beautiful. I’d like to think that if I was a reindeer and I woke up with Lace next to me every morning I’d be pretty chuffed.
Dave = If I was a reindeer I would marry Fly because she’s awesome, she’s a reindeer pioneer, she’s super sexy and she has child-bearing hips.
Izzy = Olympic, he’s just so sweet. He’d give me so much attention that I wouldn’t even care about him eating ALL of the food. Tosca would be my contingency; he’s such a handsome boy.
Bobby = Bond – strong, handsome, financially stable, good moral character. He’d be the best.
Nell = Hamish would make the easiest husband because he’d be so easy to please. Just give him food and he’d be your number one fan. Plus, he’s quite cuddly.
I was sorting through some free range photos taken by Manouk’s friend, Lidowij Meijer, from back in March and realised Okapi look liked she was having her own personalised photo shoot. What a perfect opportunity for a blog I thought!
Okapi is one of the more popular reindeer amongst us herders. Whenever we meet up with her on the free range she is always happy to put her head in a bag of food and help lead the rest of the herd to wherever we need to be. Although she is getting on a little, currently 11, she was in fantastic condition over last winter and so made a fantastic model.
When I first arrived here, however, Okapi wasn’t always at the top of my favourite reindeer list. On a few occasions I caught her walking up behind people and giving them a good poke with her antlers. Initially this was a bit stressful when leading large groups of people in amongst the herd but later on whenever I did catch Okapi shaking her head at anyone it always seemed to be the visitors who don’t listen to our clear instructions about how to behave around the reindeer that were told off by Okapi!
Anyway, enjoy the first part of Lidowij’s free range photo blog.
Feel free to check out her pages here, in the name of Jumping Jackdaw:
A frequently asked question on the hill is what noises the reindeer make. Whilst they are mostly fairly quiet animals but there are a few fascinating reindeer noises.
For any of you who have been on the hill trip you will have heard the clicking noise coming from the back feet of the reindeer. Unlike the forest dwelling Roe deer, the reindeer do not have long enough legs to outrun their predators, instead they survive using safety in numbers. They are of course a herd animal. Whilst our reindeer no longer have any predators in the UK they have maintained the mechanism for staying together as a herd. The click is produced by the friction from a tendon slipping over a bone in their back feet. It happens with every single step that the reindeer take and cannot be switched off and on. The calves will have a very quiet click whereas the big bulls will have a quite a loud click, the noise of the whole herd moving is quite amazing. This means that even in the harshest of weather conditions, where they certainly wouldn’t want to open their eyes and wouldn’t be able to see through the blizzard if they did they can still hear where the rest of the herd are. If they were to grunt then opening their mouths would lose heat, the clicking doesn’t use energy or heat so is the perfect communication devise.
Another important reindeer noise is grunting. There are two times of year where the reindeer grunt, the first is the calving season in the spring where the cows will grunt to their calves if they are not close by. The second time of year where the reindeer grunt is during the breeding season, the rutting bulls will grunt to the cows. The reindeer grunt is a bit less majestic than the famous Red deer roaring in the glens or the Roe deer barking in the woods. If you want to read a bit more about the noises of all the native deer species, Tilly wrote a wonderful blog about it last year. https://cairngormreindeer.wordpress.com/2018/01/12/calling-all-deer/
I have saved the best reindeer noise till last, the reindeer yawn. When reindeer yawn they make a lovely creaking noise which is followed by a chin wiggle. Since I first started working with the reindeer I have been trying to record a reindeer yawning as I think it would be the best possible either alarm or text message tone. If anyone has managed to record this fantastic noise, please do get in touch! There seems to be much discussion over the purpose of a yawn. Popular opinion is that animals yawn to remind the rest of the group that they are tired and thus less alert for danger and this is why it is more common amongst social mammals. Recent research shows that the yawn may in fact be to cool down the brain, the long inhalation of air cools down the blood in the vessels close to the surface in the nose and mouth and the stretching of the jaw increases the blood flow to the brain. The blood then cools down the brain making it function better and the animal feel more alert. This would perhaps explain why the reindeer seem to yawn more than normal on a particularly hot day.
One day last summer I was leading Okapi and Ryvita from the Cas flats to the reindeer enclosure. I was just about to cross the burn that is crossed by Utsi bridge further down the hill when with one misplaced step I found myself thigh deep in bog. What followed consisted of much giggling (from both me and the reindeer), a serious struggle to get my leg out and a very wet arm having had to reach down into the bog to retrieve my welly. As a squelched my way to the reindeer enclosure I started thinking about the different plants that grow in a bog, especially the indicator plants that could have helped me avoid my rather soggy fate.
Sphagnum moss is probably the most important plant to look out for. Also known as peat mosses, this group of plants can retain an incredible amount of water (up to 26 times their dry weight). It is so absorbent that it was even used by native North American babies in nappies. This means that standing on this bright green moss (notice it behind me in my bog selfie) will almost always leave you in a similar predicament as I was in. Sphagnum mosses have two types of cells that make up the plant; small living cells and large dead cells. It is the dead cells which have a large water holding capacity. (Disclaimer: if you have no interest in biochemistry then please skip the next sentence or two) Sphagnum mosses are very good at out competing the surrounding plants by carrying out a process called cation exchange, in which nutrients such as potassium and magnesium are taken up and hydrogen ions are released. The increase in concentration of hydrogen ions in the surrounding environment is responsible for making it more acidic and stopping other species from growing there. The acidic conditions along with the layering of the sphagnum produces the peat that we see on the mountains.
Bog cotton is a good indicator of a boggy area as its seed head stick up above the ground and warn you of the wet area beneath. Its white cotton-like seed heads can often be seen bobbing in the wind. Unlike regular cotton, bog cotton cannot be weaved into fabric, however in northern Europe it has been used to produce paper, pillows, candle wicks and wound dressings.
For those of you who have been on the hill trip, you may have seen the yellow spiky flowers of the bog asphodel plant. The Latin name for bog asphodel means ‘bone-breaker’ due to the belief that when sheep eat it then develop brittle bones. However it is more likely that it is correlation rather than causation as sheep eating a low calcium diet are prone to bone weakness and bog asphodel grows in calcium deficient soil. Our reindeer however have no problem getting calcium, as displayed by the wonderful antlers that they grow each year.
Sundew and butterwort
The most vicious of all the plants I have described are these two carnivorous plants. They both survive the harsh environment that they live in by catching insects to eat. Sundew catches insects by sensing their movement and elongating the cells on one edge of the leaf and retracting the cells on the other surface of the leaf causing the leaf to curl around the unsuspecting fly. Butterwort uses a different hunting method, the insects stick to its sticky glandular leaves and are then digested by the plant. If you ask me, the plants up on the hill are not working nearly hard enough to catch the midges this summer.
Which reindeer would make the best prime minister?
Fiona = Dragonfly! But not for the reasons that prime ministers become prime ministers…he thought about everything he did & he was very intelligent. I’ve trained a lot of reindeer but he did everything with precision and thought
Hen = Yeah I think Topi would have been a good candidate, he was quite…well, everyone liked him but he was also quite forthright and offered more hope of leading without dividing the country…unlike our current government.
Andi = Hmmm, it would have to be the late Topi. He was such a likeable character but certainly no pushover.
Manouk = Bovril because he’s been through so much in his life, and I think this has made him into someone who can make adequate decisions at the right time. And by a lot…I mean castration.
Chris = Kipling – she’s a woman of the people!
Lotti = Well Boris would make the worst prime minister. But politics aside…I think Kota would be the best. He seems quite wise and respected but not so showy-offy and the problem with politics at the moment is that it’s all turning so showy-offy.
Ben = Well I think what you need is intelligence, perception and a calm demeanour and Atlantic gives you that. He’s been through some hardships in his life, losing a toe early on, but he’s learnt to live with this, making him stronger, and he’s such a calm reindeer. Calm without being a push-over, even when he was a breeding bull he was pretty level-headed. Plus some of the current world leaders may recognise his impressive antlers as a sign of manliness which could give him a head start. Saying that, I definitely think that females generally best occupy positions of power but being summer staff I don’t really know the females as well as I’d like.
Dave = Fly because she knows how to lead.in an inclusive and respectful way.
Izzy = Kipling because she’d make sure everyone had food and housing. She’s friends with everyone and she’s young, so she could run for office twice. Although, she might neglect her duties if someone put lichen down in front of her.
Bobby = Fly because she establishes a nice dominance over the herd. She’s quick to take control and seems like a really good leader.
Nell = Galilee, she’s the one that often seems to lead the herd through. She’s very….well, she’s a leader.
Which reindeer would be the best/worst reindeer herder?
Fiona = I think Olympic could make a great reindeer herder if he was human, but he definitely wouldn’t if he was still a reindeer. So he’s a bit of a loner which doesn’t quite fit the reindeer herding criteria, but he’s greedy and loves his food, which certainly does fit the reindeer herding criteria. He’s an overall good egg.
Hen = Sequin would have been an excellent reindeer herder because no one had a bad thing to say about her.
Andi = Blondie wouldn’t be the best seeing as a) she’s fairly ditsy and b) would struggle to hear where the rest of the herd are on account of her deafness.
Manouk = Dixie would make the best reindeer herder because all the reindeer already follow her, also, she LOVES her food, and that’s an important quality in a reindeer herder.
Chris = Fly or Okapi would be the best – they’re often leading the girls when we’re with them. Plus, Okapi isn’t afraid to use her antlers if needed.
Lotti = Probably one of the Swede’s would be the worst aye. Because they’d be so terrible with a crowd. Spike’s a nervous nelly, he wouldn’t particularly thrive off of taking summer hill trips with 25 car loads of visitors.
Ben = Druid would be the worst; he’d just neglect his duties in favour of heading out ‘mushrooming’. He’d be far better placed as a café owner in Amsterdam.
Dave = Blondie would be the worst because she’s deaf.
Izzy = Inca would definitely be the worst because she’d end up running at the reindeer and completely scattering them. She just wouldn’t be good at getting reindeer from place to place, she’s too wild.
Bobby = Stuc would be the worst because he seems pretty shy and low on confidence.
Nell = Sherlock would be the worst because he kicks people and you couldn’t have a tour where the reindeer herder’s kicking people.
Which reindeer would you most/least like to be stuck on a desert island with?
Fiona = For good chats, social drinking and fun times it’d be the late Grunter, but for practically reasons it’d have to be Stenoa and/or Scrabble – the fatties. Just because they’d make great burgers. Haha, it sounds like it’d be Grunter and I eating Stenoa and Scrabble doesn’t it?
Hen = Well, I better start naming some living reindeer now…can I name a reindeer who would feed me for the longest? I probably shouldn’t should I? I’ll name Olympic for the companionship and the chats…plus, he’s not too skinny either.
Andi = I’m going to say Strudel because he’s always the first one to locate and break in to a bag of food. So, that has the benefit of him being able to help in finding the food, however I’d then have the problem of trying to get him to share. But hey, at least he’s friendly.
Manouk = Svalbard because after looking at the size of his belly, I reckon he won’t need to eat for a while.
Chris = Svalbard or Scrabble because I mean, come on…look at those bellies.
Lotti = Ooo, these are great questions Ben (thanks Lotti). Well, you’d want to be stuck with someone a little bit fun who you could interact with but not be a real pain. You’d want to be with someone who’s pretty bomb-proof so that they could deal with the situation. Hmmm…Olympic, he’d make me feel happy.
Ben = It’s gotta be Olympic, he’s very social which would be great and with that wagon that he’s dragging, an Olympic sized cuddle would provide me with a lot of warmth. But I think he’d be a popular choice, so if his diary was full then I’d opt for Crowdie. He’s such a sweet reindeer, plus my Dad adopts him so it’d be a nice reminder of my great family.
Dave = It would have to be a tame one. You wouldn’t wanna be stuck with a flighty one who wouldn’t come near you because how’s that for company? So, maybe…Scrabble.
Izzy = I would love to get stuck on a desert island with Olympic. I’d need to make sure he didn’t eat ALL of the food but I reckon we’d have some good conversations and he’d make an awesome spooning partner.
Bobby = Ochil. I would very much not like to be stuck on a desert island with Ochil because she always seems to give me a hard time….and has no mercy when she does so.
Nell = I’d most like to be stuck with Hook because he runs away so often and I think it’d be great exercise chasing him around the island.
Reindeer are good swimmers and today we’ll find out why and how.
Reindeer have spent millennia migrating across continents to access seasonal pastures. Their habitat grows relatively coarse fodder meaning they must travel vast distances for grazing. These migrations tackle many obstacles and one particularly challenging is water. This water body was often a river but also small sections of ocean between the mainland and an island perhaps. Either way the reindeer needed to swim. And Swim they did. And this is how they do it…
Reindeer have miraculous hooves. Their hooves can be used as snowshoes or spades in the winter for dealing with all that snow and flippers for swimming! Their action is a doggy paddle stroke and I feel we should rename this stroke and call it ‘reindeer paddle’.
We know their fur is hollow trapping air to insulate them from winters’ frosts but did we know this air fill coat also acts as a buoyancy aid! How fantastic is that?!
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking yea ok reindeer can cross a river, so can I. I swam across the Spey River once. No, they can really swim. The herds in North America are known for especially large migration routes. These herds swim across huge rivers. The Yukon river flows for over 3000km the Spey just 170km. The Yukon has a volume of 6428 cubic metres per second almost exactly 100 times larger than the Spey. These rivers are big and anything that could swim across would need to be a strong swimmer.
Some people answer to just one name, others like me have a proper name and a nickname. Although given the name Elizabeth as a baby, I was nicknamed Tiddly because I was the youngest ( and so smallest ) in our family of four children.
Tiddly got shortened to either Tids or Tilly and now many 10’s of years on from being Tiddly I am almost universally known as Tilly, although I do sometimes use my ‘real’ name Elizabeth when I want to sound ‘official’.
Having two names has worked to my advantage. Many years ago, when I was still organising all the Christmas Events with our reindeer ( thankfully our daughter Fiona does all that now ) I received a phone call from one of our clients regarding their event. After our conversation I said to the Centre Manager, ‘ I am going away for a couple of weeks and so if you have any other queries it may be best to wait till I get back’. To which the lady replied ‘ that’s no problem if you are not available, I will just ask for Tilly!’ I didn’t let on, but was amused that in this Centre Manager’s eyes there was a Tilly and an Elizabeth!
Tilly was not a common name when I was a child but in recent years I have met quite a few young Tillys! I am not someone who keeps up with changing fashions, indeed my mother used to despair of me always wearing jeans and never putting on makeup! But it would seem that I was ahead of the game when it came to my nickname!
As well as other people being called Tilly I have known of various animals with my name. Years ago I was driving up the Ski road from Aviemore back to Reindeer House and there was a chap with his ‘3 legged black labrador’ trying to hitch a lift. Feeling sorry for the dog I drew up and jumped out to let the dog jump in the back. The chap said ‘ jump in Tilly ‘ which rather took me aback before I realised he was talking to his dog!
In the mid 1980’s we became acquainted with a farmer and his wife from Keilder in Northumberland who ran a small open farm. We became best friends and over the years they both looked after reindeer for us at their farm and helped out with our reindeer events at Christmas time. John was a great stockman and could turn his hand to all types of livestock. He acquired some fallow deer and when the doe had her fawn, she wouldn’t raise it and so John and Shirley hand reared the little mite. The wee fallow became incredibly tame and was a winner with all their visitors. I was well chuffed when they announced they had called her, yup you guessed ——-‘Tilly’.
Not only do we name all our reindeer, but we also name our pedigreed Belted Galloway cattle that live on our farm at Glenlivet. When we name our reindeer calves we choose a theme for that year. Last year it was TV/film detectives, before that poets and authors, ancient civilisations etc etc. But with the cattle we go through the alphabet and in 2018 the letter was T. So strangely enough one of our heifers ( young cows ) is called Balcorrach Tilly.
And then today we received an email from a lady in the USA who had recently bought a copy of my latest book Reindeer, An Arctic Life. It transpires that she has a reindeer farm and this is what she wrote in her email:
‘Your book just arrived today and I am only one chapter in, but I already know I absolutely LOVE it. We would be honored to feature this book in our gift shop at our reindeer farm———– Already planning to name our next calf, Tilly.’
So there we go. I don’t think I ever imagined that I would have namesakes that were as diverse as a 3 legged dog, a fallow deer, a Belted Galloway cow and potentially a reindeer. What an honour. And to cap it all, very close friends had a little girl 2.5 years ago and not only did they ask me to be her Godmother but they also named her Tilly!
On our kids quiz in the Paddocks is the question ‘Name a sub-species of reindeer’, and I notice it’s often the one that people get stuck at (despite the fact that the answers are there on the display boards). I’ve realised over the years however, that this is often down to a basis lack of understanding of a percentage of the population of the concept of species and sub-species, rather than anything else. So therefore, allow me to explain.
As a zoology student (all too many years ago, so bear with me if my science is rusty!), the classification of all organic species using a system of ‘taxonomic rank’ was drilled into us. The system still in use today was founded by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in the 16th Century and brought order and clarity to the then chaotic and disorganised way of naming and categorizing all types of life. No wonder I loved learning about taxonomy – lists and organisation? My kinda thing.
The Linnaean system breaks down all living things into 7 major kingdoms, animals being one and plants another, and then each kingdom is broken down further, into different phyla. Then phyla are broken down once more to the next level, which is class, and the system carries on through order; family, genus and finally species. So reindeer can be categorized as such:
Kingdom: Animalia (Common name: Animals)
Phylum: Chordata (Chordates – meaning ‘possessing a nerve cord’)
Class: Mammalia (Mammals)
Order: Arteriodactyla (Even-toed hooved mammals)
Family: Cervidae (the Deer family)
The two part ‘binomial’ name Rangifer tarandus is perhaps more commonly known as a ‘Latin name’, and every species in the world has one. You will be familiar with ours as Homo sapiens, and like humans, reindeer are the only species within their genus, Rangifer. A regular question from visitors is ‘So….how are reindeer different from deer?’ Bizarrely, it can be quite hard explaining to people that reindeer are deer. My usual analogy is to get people to think about lions and tigers. Both obviously cats, so therefore members of the cat family (‘Felidae’), but at the same time both clearly different species from each other. So while reindeer are a member of the deer family, they are a different species from other types of deer. For example, moose, red deer and muntjac – all clearly distinguishable in looks from one another, but crucially also genetically different.
But then, as with most things, it all gets a little more complicated. Not content with 7 major divisions, scientists introduced sub-divisions in order to break down everything further. So now there are, among others, sub-classes, sub-families, sub-genera etc. Arghh! While Rangifer has no sub-genus, there are some subspecies to contend with, and this is the relevant info that we hope people will track down in our Paddocks. All seven subspecies of reindeer and caribou are all still Rangifer tarandus, so effectively all genetically the same animal, but a subspecies is shown by adding a third name after the binomial. Just to clarify too, reindeer and caribou are the same animal, but reindeer are the domesticated version of caribou. The differences are also geographical, in that reindeer are found in Europe and Asia, while caribou are found in North America and Greenland.
So back to our seven subspecies. We have:
Eurasian Tundra reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus): Open-ground dwelling subspecies, which the majority of all domesticated reindeer belong to, including ours.
Eurasian Forest reindeer (Rangifer tarandus fennicus): Boreal forest dwelling subspecies, typically taller than tundra reindeer.
Svalbard reindeer (Rangifer tarandus platyrhynchus): Smallest subspecies, endemic to the arctic archipelago of the Svalbard islands. Short legged!
Barren-ground caribou (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus): Migratory subspecies of open ground. The most similar of the caribous to our tundra reindeer.
North American woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou): Largest caribou subspecies, often darker in colour. As the name suggests, they live in forests, and generally don’t migrate.
Peary caribou (Rangifer tarandus pearyi): Smallest of the caribou subspecies.
Alaskan or Porcupine caribou (Rangifer tarandus granti): Migratory subspecies most closely resembling the barren-ground caribou, and named after the Porcupine river, which runs through much of their range. The longest migrating land mammal on Earth.
There have been two other subspecies in the past but these have now died out – the East Greenland Caribou and the Queen Charlotte Island Caribou.
So there you go, a brief taxonomy lesson, and congratulations to anyone who has stuck with me, as well as apologies for some slight over-simplifications for any scientists amongst you. Hopefully you’ll have all learnt something though – I’m a big believer of sneaking in educational blogs among the pretty pictures and funny stories we often post! And if it’s all too much and you’d just prefer something a bit more light-hearted, head off and google pictures of Svalbard reindeer. You’ll not be disappointed.