Wildlife & Marine Life North Spitsbergen Sailing Voyage
With Aqua-Firma Marine Scientist, Charlotte Caffrey
Name: Svalbard reindeer (Rangifer tarandus)
Length: up to 160 cm - males; up to 150 cm - females
Weight: 65 - 90* kg - males; 50 - 70* kg - females
*summer/winter weight variations
Status: Least Concern
Although smaller than its counterparts across a wide Holarctic range, the Svalbard reindeer is no less hardy in its ability to adapt and survive on poor vegetation and harsh Arctic winters. This sturdy little reindeer is too agile for the ever-hungry polar bear but is inquisitive and may come up to investigate if you remain quiet.
Diet: The Svalbard reindeer is a generalist herbivore and eats almost all available vegetation, with only a few exceptions e.g. white heather. The tough vegetation diet causes major tooth wearing, which leads to starvation (the main cause of death in the reindeer).
Habitat: The highest populations of reindeer are found in areas with rich tundra vegetation. They spend most of their time slowly walking across tundra, eating almost constantly. During winter, reindeer are often found at high altitudes, where vegetation is often more exposed. Reindeer are good swimmers and often swim to new areas of habitat.
Biology: Unlike reindeer from other regions, the Svalbard reindeer tend to live either on their own or in very small groups, with groups exceeding twenty in number being rare. Both sexes have antlers, which grow between Apr - July. The antlers are covered velvet until August and, following the breeding season when males display and fight, the antlers drop off in late autumn.
Historical: Svalbard reindeer were hunted for their coats and for their meat and in the early 20th century, they were almost at the point of extinction. However, since they were protected in 1925, their recovery has been steady across Svalbard.
Notes: The Svalbard reindeer is a subspecies of reindeer endemic to Svalbard and although there is little seasonal migration, reindeer are commonly seen crossing frozen fjords. The Svalbard reindeer is not domesticated and they do not belong to anyone, unlike reindeer in many other regions.
Trivia: If you find some white/pale hair whilst on a walk and can't tell if it's from a reindeer or polar bear; reindeer hair breaks easily, whereas polar bear hair is stronger and remains intact.