I’ll start with our first meeting as this was also the first time I’d ever seen a reindeer!
On a wee holiday with my boyfriend, enjoying the hills in the Cairngorms, a funny looking deer walked up to us. It was clear it wasn’t a red deer, but we totally didn’t expect a reindeer to join us on the walk! Soon she realised we didn’t have any food (or at least not the kind of food she would like to eat) with us and she left, but I was able to make a few lovely ‘close up’ pictures.
Later that evening I emailed the Reindeer Centre to let them know there was a reindeer on her own. Not knowing anything about reindeer, but working with sheep, seeing one on its own is usually not a good sign as they like to stay together as a flock (or herd in this case). Showing the picture, they recognised her as, three guesses… yes, it was Oatcake! I learnt that unfortunately, she lost her calf out on the free range and she was likely looking for her little one around that time.
Oatcake made me interested about wanting to know more about reindeer. So really it’s thanks to her I’ve got a job here!
We don’t have any reindeer in the Netherlands where I was born, it’s all way too flat for these beautiful animals who have their habitat above the tree line and out on the hills. I now live in Fort William, with the highest mountain in the UK right at our doorstep, but you’ll not see any reindeer here either. The hills on the west coast are too pointy and rocky rather than the plateaus full of lichen found in the Cairngorms. So I commute to the Cairngorms once a week, returning home the following evening.
This year during calving season I was delighted to go out and try to find Oatcake and her new-born in the hill enclosure. Reindeer being reindeer, often calve on the most exposed and windy spot in our enclosure – at the top of Silver Mount. This is where we found Oatcake. We like to get a hold of the new-born calves to give them a small dose of spot-on (a tick treatment) and spray their navel with antiseptic… and of course, to see if mum and calf are happy and okay!
I was hoping Oatcake would let us come close to her wee one no problem, all we had to do is show her some food, but I was wrong. Oatcake is such a good mum and very protective of her calf, so as soon as she saw us, she started playing hide and seek! Thankfully I wasn’t alone, so my colleague Ben and myself split up, trying to slowly push her towards the part of the enclosure where all the other mums and calves were, so we could get a better look at her calf.
Oatcake was one of the last reindeer to cast her antlers this spring and of course we always hope to find them, which isn’t always possible in such a big area. Luckily she made it very very easy for us, she just left her antler hanging on the fence!
Oatcake and calf, together with the rest of our females, are now out on the free range for the summer months enjoying their freedom and finding the best of food to eat. Hopefully very soon we’ll see her back in the enclosure for the autumn months.