Superstitions

Since it’s Friday the 13th, I thought I would try to write up a blog about superstitions from reindeer herders around the world. I thought it would be a fairly easy subject to research, but it turns out it is rather difficult and trying to determine what was actually believed way back when, and what has been made up for the tourist industry is exceedingly difficult. I have tried my best to be as accurate as possible and only report on reliable information, but do feel free to correct me if any of what is said below is wrong. Sámi shamanism, traditions, superstitions etc. are very difficult to come by because up until the mid-20th century, the Sámi underwent ‘Norwegeniasation’. The Sámi were not allowed to speak their own languages, were converted to Christianity by missionaries and it was shameful to have Sámi roots. Attitudes have now changed and it is cool to be a Sámi now. There is even a festival in Norway called Riddu Riđđu where people can explore and enjoy their Sámi roots. Anyway, here are some little snippets of traditions and beliefs of reindeer herders around the world.

 

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A band at Riddu Riđđ,  holding a Sámi flag on stage. (Photo from norwayfestivals.com)

The Chukchi, a group of reindeer herders from Siberia, thought it akin (bad) to sell a live reindeer, but would happily sell a dead reindeer. There is a book called ‘In a Far Country’, by John Taliaferro, which is a true story describing how, after whaling ships were trapped on Alaska’s north coast by ice, a missionary named Top Lopp decided to herd reindeer out to the 200+ whalers who would otherwise starve to death, with the help of 7 Eskimo herders, in the late 1800’s. The book describes the troubles that the men faced in trying to purchase live reindeer to herd across the Bering strait to the men stranded in Alaska. It talks about the Chukchi being offered a fortune in tobacco and cloth, but they would always refuse. The Chukchi would sell dead reindeer at 75 cents apiece, up to 500 at a time, but never a live reindeer.

Chukchi reindeer herder, Sergei Elevye, with one of his bull reindeer
Chukchi reindeer herder, Sergei Elevye, with one of his bull reindeer. (Photo from mediastorehouse.com)

The Sámi had and have a very close bond with nature, and natural phenomenon which nowadays can be easily explained by science, were of course much more exciting/terrifying occurrences. The aurora borealis, or Northern lights are of course one of the most fascinating and obvious phenomena in the north. Some northern Finnish reindeer herders used to believe that they were caused by a fox running extremely fast across the sky, whipping up the colours with her tail. The Sámi of Sweden feared the lights and would even hide away from it, or at least try to cover themselves if they could not hide. It is also extremely bad luck to mock, or even make notice of the lights, to some. It was believed that if you whistled at the lights, they would swoop down and kill you. However, if they did try to kill you, you could clap your hands and they would leave you alone.

This close connection with the natural world often meant that they would pray and give sacrifices to many different Gods. They also believed that everything had a spirit including certain trees and rocks. There were often stones that people would have to greet, otherwise the stone could get angry and come down on them. Unusual landforms, especially rocks, were often called seidi‘s and were worshipped to bring the worshipper protection. They were also seen as gateways to the underworld.

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A seidi in Balsfjord (Image from wikipedia.com)

It is also believed that white reindeer bring good luck and all herders should have a white reindeer in their herd. Luckily, we have quite a few in our own herd, including Blondie, and her son Lego. Fiona has also heard that if you see a white reindeer, the sun and the moon all at the same time, it brings good luck. So have a look out next time you come on one of our visits!

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Blondie, relaxing on a sunny day.

The Sámi also joik, a form of acapella singing; its themes usually include animals, people and special occasions in life. The Sámi also joik about Stállo, who is a mythical being, very rich and very smart, and who is able to change shape and can even change the landscape so people become lost. He is an evil entity, and often the joiks describe how to trick Stállo.

We haven’t had many reindeer born on Friday 13th, since it really is only May that the reindeer calve. We did have one handsome male reindeer born, called Peru. He lived up until around 8 years old, and was a ‘Christmas reindeer’. There are actually only 4 reindeer still alive who were born in 2005 with Peru, so I think he did ok to get to 8 years old. Obviously, I don’t know if one has been born today or not, but it doesn’t seem to be too bad an omen for the reindeer.

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Peru looking handsome in his summer coat.

 

Imogen

Cairngorms Nature Festival

Yo!

So this blog is a wee bit different, of course there’ll be a wee bit of reindeer chat – what’s a reindeer blog without the reindeer! However, this week we thought we’d plug some of the fab things going on in the Cairngorms next weekend for the Cairngorms Nature Festival – if you’re around get involved as there’s a plethora (a good word I know!) of ace things on offer to see and do for all ages!

Every May, the National Park has a weekend to celebrate all the amazing nature things in the area, and this year it will be running on Saturday 14th and Sunday 15th May. It’s a super way of seeing and learning a wee bit more about the environment here and what makes it special, be it if you’re local or on holiday, get out there and learn something cool!

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I guess we should get on to the reindeer bit… we’ll be business as usual with hill trips going twice a day at 11am and 2.30pm as well as the paddocks & exhibition being open and all tickets prices will have a 20% discount applied. Come and feed the reindeer up on the hill, but be prepared for all weathers!

Reindeer and Visitors
Hopefully the sun will be shining when you come to visit us!

There’ll also be tonnes of other things happening all over Badenoch and Strathspey, around Blair Atholl, Upper Deeside and Tomintoul. Some events that adults might enjoy include Green Woodworking Demos with Wooden Tom (he’s a really cool chap) at Feshiebridge Sculpture Trail on Saturday 14th. This is a ‘drop in anytime’ session running from 10am until 4pm (Here’s a handy link to his website). There is also the ‘Night Time on Nethy’ event on Saturday at 9pm. You’ll be on the river Nethy at night with the ranger, and booking is essential for that event. If you’d like to go on an all-day adventure, why not book into the ‘High Living in the Cairngorms’ event. This is a walk, starting at the Glenmore visitor centre and will involve some uphill. Booking is advisable and you will need to be dressed to be outside all day, in all weathers, and make sure you have a packed lunch too.

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Wooden Tom, who will be demonstrating Green Woodworking Skills

For families, there are lots of interesting things to do. You can help the Loch Garten forest elves and fairies, by helping to create a garden for their enchanted tree. This event takes place on Saturday 14th, from 10.30am until 3.30pm (drop in any time) and you will also make some little forest-folk to take home at the end as well! This is located just 5 minutes from the Osprey Centre, and you can ask for directions from the kiosk there. On Sunday the 15th, there’s a self-guided trail letting us know all about how trees grow. It starts from the Glenmore Visitor Centre and you can do it any time between 10am and 4pm. At Blair Atholl there’s a ‘Woolly Woods and Woolly Nature Trail’ on both Saturday and Sunday. You can drop in at any time and search for the knitted nature and other wildlife from the Blair Atholl Information Centre.

There are lots of other events going on all over the place, and you can get more information and book spaces by going to the Cairngorms Nature Festival page, where you can download a .pdf of all the events running throughout the weekend.

Hope you all enjoy some of the events being put on!

Abby and Imogen

Always be prepared…

At the beginning of March an event occurred in the Cairngorms which only happens once every three years… El Nino or meteor showers you may ask, no, the Reindeer Herders got our First Aid training! On a snowy morning we all headed down to our local village of Kincraig to meet our wonderful trainer Pete from Outwardly Mobile First Aid in Newtonmore (Look them up if you need training local folks!).

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Pete, our trainer, prepared for every situation

You’ll be glad to know that our course was aimed specifically at Outdoor Emergency First Aid, rather handy seeing as we spend lots of time out on the mountains. However, although we can theoretically now deal with almost any eventuality whilst on the hill with our lovely visitors, please don’t throw yourself off the path to test it…

As you can imagine we turned up in true reindeer herder style (slightly shambolic… but still classy I think..). Our first, or rather my (Abby) first faux pas was failing to find the ‘Meeting Room’ we were using… apparently it said it on the door… who knew! After setting up in what was basically a spare cupboard, the keeper of the hall turned up and set us right! We also had one special reindeer herder on-site to make sure we were taking things mega seriously…

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Tip brushing up on her skills
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Tip standing in as a casualty

She valiantly guarded us and made sure we practiced our First Aid to our full abilities!

While learning the finer arts of CPR we were all granted our own CPR dummy faces (for hygiene) although they were a tad creepy…

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Pete despairing at his class of dummies

After going through all the basics, recovery positions, CPR and Defibrillator training it was time for the fun stuff… the scenarios! This was AWESOME! We got to dress up AND behave like idiots – in my case, my job on one scenario was to be a stressed out bystander to a cardiac arrest… there was even a prop chainsaw involved… EPIC! (We did also learn a lot of useful stuff too – like how to prioritise your patients and keep people calm).

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Checking for danger (village halls can be dodgy places)
ResponseAirway
Check for a response, airway and breathing
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No response – call for help (note Imogen – “I have an unresponsive casualty, not breathing, who appear to have lost all of its limbs, clothes and hair”)
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Commence CPR
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Recovery position and recovering Imogen on a stretcher made from a bivvy bag

After two intense and riotous days we all successfully passed (woohoo!) but Imogen was so super serious she got two certificates to prove her dedication to the First Aid cause!

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So whilst we sincerely hope that our skills won’t be called upon, if the worst happens at least we’re all up to speed and well rehearsed on what we need to do.

Abby

Very Merry Christmas Reindeer Crafty Fun

photo 5Today’s the day – Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you’re all having a lovely day and have eaten your weight in chocolate and cheese and are having a good rest. If your wee ones (or your big ones!) have already tired of some of their presents, then I have a very quick little Christmas decoration tutorial for you all.

Everyone meet Gerald, the pom pom Christmas reindeer! This is a quick wee make that hopefully the kids will manage, with some adult supervision, of course.

Materials

  • Yarn or wool. It doesn’t really matter what kind, or what colour, but I used brown for realism. Please feel free to make rainbow reindeer!
  • Red felt. I buy whole sheets from local crafty places for about 50p, but you only need a little to make a nose.
  • Googly eyes. I use ones that you peel that backing off and it sticks to anything.
  • Sticky tape.
  • A pair of scissors
  • Cardboard or a pom pom maker. I used a pom pom maker because I am super into crafts and like to buy useless stuff.
  • Pipe cleaners

photo 1.0Instructions

Firstly, make a pom pom. I presume everyone knows how to make a pom pom with cardboard, but if not there are lots of tutorials on Youtube. I will put links in to tutorials at the end of the blog.

If you don’t know how to make one, you basically get two pieces of cardboard, cut them into circles of equal size, and make a fairly large hole in the middle. Put the pieces of card together and then wrap the yarn/wool around the circles, going through the hole in the middle and round the outside. Once the circles are completely covered in a fairly thick layer of yarn, you then have to cut the yarn. To do this, I get a pair of scissors and hold the cardboard circles so that I’m looking down on top, i.e. like a bird’s eye view of a tyre on a car, as opposed to looking at a tyre lying flat on the ground. I then put the scissors roughly in the middle and cut down, trying to find the split where the two sides of cardboard meet. Then cut along this split all the way round. You’ll be left with lots of little bits of yarn all poking out. Keep a good hold of that cardboard! You need to wrap a length of yarn around all those little bits, so put the length in between the cardboard bits and then basically tie it as tight as you can. This is where the pom pom can go wrong – if that piece of yarn isn’t tied tight enough, your little yarn bits will all fall out and you won’t have a pom pom!

photo 2.0photo 3.0Tie it really tight a few times and then you want to make a loop with the end, to be able to hang Gerald on your tree. I just tie a knot in the yarn quite low down and it gets hidden in amongst the pom pom.

photo 5.0The next step to a pom pom is to remove the cardboard, but HOLD ON! We’ll do that in a minute, but first we want to make a start on those reindeer antlers! I put a pipe cleaner in the middle of the pom pom, basically through the hole in the middle and then you can remove the cardboard. You should be left with a pom pom with two ends of pipe cleaner coming out of the middle. I then bend the pipe cleaners so they stick up, like antennae.

photo 1.2You can leave the antlers like this if you like, to make something similar to calf antlers, of you can add more pipe cleaners and make cow or bull antlers. I just twist the pipe cleaners round the sticking up pipe cleaners and bend them into shape and I ended up with this.

photo 3.3Starting to look a little like a reindeer now! Next, we need to cut out a nose for our reindeer. I went for red, but you can do whatever colour you like. Just cut a wee circle out of your felt.

photo 5.3I then get my sticky tape and cut a little bit off. I bend it on itself to make it double-sided and stick it on the back of my nose. I then place my nose on my pom pom.

photo 1The next step is to put your googly eyes on Gerald. I just chose a nice big pair and stuck them on!

photo 2And finally, hang him on your tree!

photo 3Admire your handiwork and enjoy the rest of the festive period!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from all of us at the Reindeer Centre.

Imogen

 

YouTube links for more help:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7M9Dw4leyjw&feature=iv&src_vid=C9dbhu9YhtU&annotation_id=annotation_615976

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EULHNtikVxg

 

River Stars Reindeer

We’re pleased to tell you about an exhibition we’re helping to host up here in Glenmore.

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“Reindeer with pack & crib held by Kardin & Nikolaevich Buldotovsky.” Baramakan Camp, Inner Mongolia

Life in the snow forests: 100-year-old photographs displayed for the first time

Indigenous people from the snow forests of Inner Mongolia and Siberia have been reunited with century-old photographs of their family and communities as part of a research project and exhibition at the University of Cambridge.

Previously unseen photographs capturing life in a remote corner of the world a hundred years ago will now be displayed in Glenmore, following the River Stars Reindeer first unveiling at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge.

The photographs record the indigenous Evenki and Orochen communities and were made by Russian ethnographer Sergei Shirokogoroff and his wife Elizabeth between 1912-1917, and by Cambridge graduate Ethel Lindgren and her husband, Oscar Mamen, between 1929-1932.

The exhibition, was the culmination of a painstaking curatorial process, which involved choosing 70 images from more than 26,000 photographs. A process further complicated by the research team coming from ten different institutes located in three different countries.

One of the curators of the Cambridge exhibition, Jocelyne Dudding said: “This is a unique opportunity to see the very best of their images together for the very first time. The photographs are not only a wonderful record of the ways of life for Evenki and Orochen, but they also speak of the more personal stories behind every image.

“Each photograph tells many, many different stories about the lives of the people, the clothes they wore, the animals they raised and the places they called home.

The conversations Dudding and her fellow researchers from Aberdeen, St Petersburg and Hohhot had with the indigenous communities directly influenced the selection process for the exhibition. As the project developed and word spread, more and more communities from other areas came forward and asked to be included.

River Stars Reindeer comes about from a digital sharing project to reunite Evenki and Orochen communities with their photographs, and thereby their histories and their cultural heritage,” added Dudding. “We are now in the process of digitally sharing our photographs with them – having spent the last 18 months digitising 16,000 images so far.

“A shaman, a shamaness, and a Achinsk Lama with their helpers.”
“A shaman, a shamaness, and a Achinsk Lama with their helpers.”

The exhibition title River Stars Reindeer speaks of the cosmologies and realities of the lives of Evenkis and Orochens in an area known as the three rivers region.

Many of the photographs to be displayed at the exhibition were gathered by anthropologist Dr Ethel Lindgren and photographer Oscar Mamen. Lindgren went on to continue her studies and immersion with reindeer husbandry and in later years married her second husband Mikel Utsi, Swedish Sami reindeer herder. In 1952 Lindgren and Utsi successfully re-introduced reindeer to Scotland. The Cairngorm Reindeer Herd still thrive today and exist freely within the Cairngorm mountains.

River Stars Reindeers exhibition runs from 26 November 2015 until 3 January 2016 and will be displayed at Glenmore Visitor Centre. The exhibition is on loan from the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge where it has recently been shown.

Calf Training 101

October is a fun time of year as it’s when we train this year’s calves as well as harness training our young Christmas reindeer to pull Santa’s sleigh. Halter training and handling the calves makes them much tamer and easier to handle for the rest of their lives so even if they don’t end up pulling Santa’s sleigh at least we can catch them if we ever need to when they are out in the hills…well, most of the time anyway, some are always wild…it’s in the genetics!

Luckily reindeer are very food orientated, aren’t we all! So stage one is to get their heads in a bucket full of tasty lichen, chocolate for reindeer!

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Lotti luring the calf into the bucket of delights!

Once the head is ‘inserted’ a sneaky manoeuvre gets the halter on with them barely noticing what’s happened!

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Mel putting on the calf’s halter while Lotti holds the bucket

Once the wee ones are caught we get ourselves a couple of steady old boys to come alongside and ‘teach’ the calves…this day it was Puddock and Parfa’s turn to be the companions. We have found that they are better behaved without their mums, like some children! So mum’s go back up the hill once they have accompanied the calves down to the ‘training centre’ and the big boys take over.

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All haltered up, we are ready for a wee walk around Glenmore to see the new sights and sounds…….
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To try and make the walks a ‘fun’ thing we go off into the woods in search of yummy snacks!
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Enjoying some freshly picked tree lichen from Lotti.
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The boys enjoy the smorgasbord walks just as much as the calves! Puddock nibbling lichen from the trees.
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Fresh birch leaves are another favourite, Grunter snacking on leaves while Lotti feeds the wee calf.
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Moose ready to grab a big mouthful of leaves, it’s interesting to watch the technique. They grab the twig some way toward to base and then pull it throw their teeth and hard pad to strip off all the leaves but leave the twig and tip intact so they don’t actually damage it, clever!
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The training/buffet walk finishes with a wee graze of the grass.

Lastly with heads snuggly back in buckets of lichen, halters are carefully removed! After 2 or 3 outings like this they will be pretty much halter trained. The key to winning them round is lots of tasty snacks and pockets full of lichen as you will have seen and a couple of old boys who can be a good influence!

Mel

A (very) short history of herding

Reindeer are the only semi-domesticated animal which naturally belongs to the north. Reindeer herding is conducted in 9 countries; Norway, Finland, Sweden, Russia, Greenland, Alaska, Mongolia, China and Canada. Most importantly of course our small herd here in the Cairngorms!

Eve feeds the herd in a winter storm
Herder Eve feeds the Cairngorm herd in a winter storm (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

There are roughly 30 different reindeer herding cultures (i.e. the Sami in Scandinavia) with up to four million reindeer! (A few more than our 150!). There is often an intimate relationship between herders and their reindeer as well as husbandry, which, wherever practiced is often almost identical.

Reindeer represent one of the only domesticated species with which humans still live to their terms and needs instead of making the reindeer adapt to ours. For example, popping a reindeer in a grassy field prevents them grazing and migrating normally, which is key to a healthy and happy (reindeer) life. Reindeer herding is socially and culturally extremely important as each ‘group’ of herding peoples have unique identities and cultures centring on their way of life with their reindeer. Economically reindeer are also very important as meat and other products make up these cultures’ livelihoods.

Herd of caribou
Herd of hundreds of caribou

In the modern reindeer vernacular you’ll find two terms, ‘reindeer herding’ and ‘reindeer husbandry’ – herding is the much older concept which mainly refers to working with the reindeer whereas the ‘husbandry’ encompasses not only the reindeer but the entire herding industry: socio-economic issues, scientific research and management. As with many traditional occupations around the world the reindeer herding lifestyle is under threat from loss of pasture land, predators and of course climate change, which has an immediate effect on grazing.

As you may know, the Cairngorm herd are a family owned business and this is often true of reindeer herders across the globe where individual owners often work in co-operation with their families, neighbours or villages to care for their reindeer. There are around 100,000 reindeer herders in the circumpolar north today which is a lot more than our 7 full-time members of staff! Reindeer herding varies between different cultures and countries but the one thing which remains constant is the need for herds to migrate between summer and winter pastures. If you’ve visited us here in the summer you’ll know that at this time of year our female reindeer are up and away on the Cairngorm plateau where they find yummy alpine plants and relief from insects; they then return to lower more stable winter pastures where they find their favourite food: lichen.

Reindeer pulling a sleigh
Reindeer pulling a sleigh in Russia (Photo by Elen Schorova, used under CC 2.0)

Reindeer herding is not a 9-5 job but a way of life: here in the Cairngorms, our daily routine is dependent on where the reindeer are, the weather conditions, pasture land and the seasons. In fact, for the Sámi, their yearly calendar is entirely based upon what reindeer are doing during specific seasons. For example, early spring is known as Gijrra – The Season of Returning – winter is ending, snow is melting and the reindeer return to familiar calving grounds for May or Miessemannu – the calf month.

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Herder Vicky hanging out with old boy Comet

The lovely thing about reindeer herding is by working with these wonderful (sometimes ridiculous) creatures your work is not only focused by your own goals but it is truly dependent on the reindeer themselves and most importantly the natural world around you.

Abby

Reindeer, Roe or Red: How to recognise your British deer

Although there are only seven species of deer living wild in the UK, there is often confusion as to which species people have seen, not helped by the fact that usually there is only a fleeting glimpse of a fast-moving rump disappearing into the trees! In this week’s blog, I hope to demystify the issue and perhaps raise your curiosity so you keep a closer look-out for your local deer. So from largest to smallest, here are the species to look out for…

Red deer (Cervus elaphus)
Height (shoulder): 110-150cm

Red deer
Red deer (Photo by Rexness used under CC 2.0)

Our largest species of deer, and in fact our largest land animal, is the red deer. Named for their beautiful reddish brown summer coats, red deer are native to the UK and are a herd animal preferring to live in woodland with open rides. However, as humans have altered the countryside over the centuries, they have adapted to living on moors and heaths, though the red deer of the Scottish highlands rarely grow as big as their cousins in the lowlands. Red deer are found across the UK, and are best recognised by the combination of their large size (they are big!), their buff rump and short tail. They’re also likely to be seen in herds rather than on their own.

Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus)
Height (shoulder): 100-140cm

Reindeer bull
Reindeer bull © Richard Cope

Reindeer are by far the most familiar deer species to me, because this is the species we care for here at the Centre. Reindeer were once found free-ranging across much of the UK, but died out due to the pressures of over-hunting and climate change at least 1000 years ago. Our small herd were reintroduced to the Cairngorms in Scotland in 1952, and around 150 reindeer now roam the mountains here. As the only British deer species to be adapted to Arctic conditions, they are comparatively stocky and dumpy, and tend to carry their heads below the horizontal. Their colour ranges from pure white to almost black – variation caused by thousands of years of domestication – and both males and females grow antlers. For most people, they are an easy candidate to rule out, as they are only found roaming in the Cairngorms in Scotland.

Sika deer (Cervus nippon)
Height (shoulder): 70-120cm

Sika deer
Sika deer (Photo by Arudhio used under CC 2.0)

Originally Japanese in origin, Sika deer were introduced to the UK from 1860, and can now be found in patches right across the country, though their stronghold is in north-west Scotland. They are similar in appearance to a red deer at first glance, but are slightly smaller, have a dark dorsal stripe and a much darker brown winter coat. Their heart-shaped rump patch is bright white, compared to the buff colour of a red deer, and for much of the year they are solitary, though they will form small groups of 6-7 in the autumn and winter.

Fallow deer (Dama dama)
Height (shoulder): 70-100cm

Fallow
Fallow deer buck (Photo by Not From Utrecht used under CC 3.0)

The stereotypical “spotty” deer, fallow deer are a common sight grazing in the grounds of stately homes and parkland. There is evidence that fallow once roamed Britain around 400,000 years ago, but today’s population has resulted from escapees from parks. Fallow bucks grow lovely ‘palmate’ (flattened) antlers. The familiar tan “menil” form with white spots is just one of the colours that this variable deer comes in, whilst some individuals are white, some are dark brown with spots that disappear in winter, and some are completely black. The noticeable trait which is the same for all of these colourations is a light coloured rump patch edged with black, with their long tail appearing to split it into two.

Roe deer (Capreolus capreolus)
Height (shoulder): 65-75cm

Roe deer
Roe deer (Photo by JoJo used under CC 3.0)

The dainty roe deer is another of our native deer species, and perhaps the one you are most likely to spot in woodland and gardens right across the UK, with some individuals becoming incredibly tame due to living in close proximity to humans. The species was driven close to extinction in this country in the 1700s due to overhunting. Roe deer are usually seen alone or in small family groups, are a solid brown colour with a small rump patch and don’t have a noticeable tail. They will ‘bark’ if alarmed, which can be mistaken for the yap of a dog.

Chinese water deer (Hydropotes inermis)
Height (shoulder): 50-60cm

Chinese water deer
Chinese water deer (Photo by Nicholls of the Yard used under CC 2.0)

Chinese water deer are a primitive species – instead of growing antlers the males grow tusks which can be seen protruding from their mouths. They were introduced to the UK within the last 150 years and have since become established across the Midlands and East Anglia. As their name suggests, their preferred habitat is fens and wetlands, and they are usually seen alone or in small family groups as they are territorial. The most obvious differences setting Chinese water deer apart are the lack of antlers, large mobile ears and the absence of a rump patch.

Muntjac deer (Muntiacus reevesi)
Height (shoulder): 45-55cm

Muntjac
Muntjac deer (Photo by Nilfanion used under CC 3.0)

The smallest of our deer species was introduced around 1900, and is now well established across most of England. At first glance, it would be easy to mistake a Muntjac for a small dog, or perhaps a large hare, as they tend to have a peculiar hunched stance. Muntjac are usually seen alone or in small family groups, and the males are often heard rather than seen as they bark persistently when rutting. Along with the male’s small antlers, both sexes grow tusks, and as they aren’t seasonal breeders, does can be seen with a fawn at any point of the year. Their tiny stature (think collie-dog size) and hunched posture makes Muntjac easy to distinguish.

So there it is, from the largest to the smallest, the seven species of deer that you may encounter in the UK. Hopefully this has helped make the thought of working out who that disappearing rump belonged to a little less daunting! Keep your eyes open, even in parks and gardens in towns and cities, and perhaps you may be surprised by one of these beautiful animals.

Andi

Antlers vs Horns – What is the difference?

Many people who come and visit the reindeer want to know the answer to this very question: What is the difference between antler and horn?

Antlers

First of all, just in case you are in any doubt, reindeer grow antlers, not horns! Many folk ask us what antlers are made of and ‘are they made of wood?’ is a surprisingly common question which always amuses us!

Antlers are an extension of the animals skull, found on members of the family Cervidae (i.e. deer). They are made of bone, are a single structure and are shed and regrown every year. Antlers grow from pedicles – bony supporting structures that develop on the skull. Sometimes, the pedicles get damaged and you get a lopsided set of antlers like one of our female reindeer, Hopscotch. Occasionally, they don’t develop on one side at all, for example Dixie who only ever grows one antler.

Dixie and Arnish
Dixie with her one antler, and antlerless Arnish

Generally they are only grown on males but, of course, reindeer are the exception to the rule. Male reindeer lose their antlers shortly after the rut, the breeding season, in autumn. Female reindeer hold on to their antlers over the winter because access to food is critical during winter pregnancy. Having antlers generally makes you more dominant so you can push the antler-less boys off the good food patches! However there are always exceptions… Arnish, who is no longer with us, was a ‘mega hard’ reindeer and never grew a single antler but she was as tough as old boots and just battered other reindeer with her front hooves when required!

Reindeer start to grow new antlers again in the spring and its incredibly fast growing, up to an inch in a week. On some of the big boys, like Crann, you have a few days off and return to see a massively noticeable difference in his antler size. While the antlers are growing, the bone is encased in super soft velvet, hair covered skin, which covers the nerves and the blood vessels feeding the antlers from the tip. Once the antlers are fully grown, end of August for reindeer, the blood supply cuts off and the velvet starts to dry and crack and come away from the bone. The reindeer help this process by rubbing their antlers against vegetation and what ever is about, like a fence post! They can look a bit gory at this stage as flaps of bloody velvet dangle off them like dread locks! Once its all peeled away they are left with solid bone antlers which the bulls now use during the rut to impress females and fight off other bulls.

Crann
Crann and his huge set of antlers

They lose them, as already mentioned, shortly after the rut or after winter for females and then the whole process restarts the following spring…pretty clever!

Horns

Horn structureFound on sheep, bison, cows, pronghorn and antelopes, horns are made of two parts. They have an interior of bone (also an extension of the skull) covered by an outer keratinized sheath made of a very similar material to your fingernails.

Soays
Soay sheep at our Glenlivet hill farm, showing off their horns

One pair of horns is typical but some species of sheep have two or more pairs for example Jacobs sheep. Horns are usually spiral or curved in shape and often have ridges on them.

Impala
Male impala with impressive horns

Horns start to grow soon after birth and grow continually through the life of the animal and are never shed, with the exception of the Pronghorn which sheds and regrows its horny sheath every year, but retains its bony core. Unlike antlers, horns are never branched and although more commonly grown on males of the species, several females grow them too.

So hopefully that has shed (no pun intended!) some light on the subject. Come and visit the reindeer at different times of the year to see how the antlers change with the seasons. By the end of winter/start of spring, barely any will have antlers still attached and they do look a little strange compared to when they have the magnificent bony antlers of autumn. Just now the reindeer are all growing their new antlers so they are covered in lovely super soft velvet and are about half way to complete size.

Mel