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Reindeer Sub-Species of Europe


Most of Europe's reindeer populations are now semi-domesticated. While they are still allowed to roam free in their traditional reindeer territories, herding and husbandry in Lapland and other areas of Scandinavia continue among the Sami and other indigenous people.

There are three sub-species of reindeer in Europe, and each has evolved over time to adapt to its particular environment. The forest reindeer of Finland (R. tarandus fennicus) for example, has adapted to northern forest life by growing narrower sets of antlers to  ensure it can move through the forest unhindered.

Norway's Svalbard Islands Reindeer

There are approximately 10,000 Svalbard Islands reindeer (Rangifer tarandus platyrhynchus) in existence and they all live on Norway's Svalbard Islands, an island archipelago in the Arctic. Until 1925, hunting cut down the Svalbard reindeer population which accounts for the small number left to roam and repopulate. Reindeer have lived in the Svalbard Islands long before the islands became separated from the mainland during the last ice age. 

The Svalbard reindeer are the smallest reindeer due to insular dwarfism as the animal evolved and adapted to its small roaming ground. Adult female Svalbard reindeer weigh approximately 53 kg in spring, but typically gain another 17 kg by winter. Adult males weigh approximately 65 kg, gaining another 25 kg by winter. They are shorter in height and length than other reindeer – 150 cm to 160 cm in length and approximately 80 cm tall. 

Finland's Forest Reindeer

There are three traditional grazing grounds for Finland's forest reindeer (Rangifer tarandus fennicus). They can be found in Northern Europe's Fenoscandia Peninsula with a smaller population in the forests of central Finland as well as a population in the region of Karelia. In contrast to Norway's Svalbard reindeer, Finland's forest reindeer is the largest of the sub-species. Males can weigh as much as 250 kg while females weigh up to 100 kg. These reindeer are built for the forest as well as the cold and the snow.

The forest reindeer of Finland are becoming a threatened sub-species with small populations. They were hunted to near extinction until the close of the 19th century. Hunting and diminishing forests over centuries have led Finland's government to introduce them into Salamajärvi National Park, but their numbers are slow to increase due to an abundance wolves moving into the region.

The Mountain Reindeer of the Arctic Tundra

Mountain reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) graze from the Fennoscandia Peninsula into northern Russia along the the Arctic tundra.

Norway has some of the largest wild reindeer or mountain reindeer herds.  They live in the barren plateaus of the Hardangervidda grazing on lichen during the winter months and migrating in spring to breed on more vegetative grounds in the region.

The population of the mountain reindeer of the Hardangervidda has remained constant in recent years with an average of 8000 wild reindeer on the plateau.

The reindeer of northern Europe have always struggled for their survival. With the depletion of forests, climate change, hunting and domestication, their numbers have decreased, some species to near extinction. Awareness and calls for action have resulted in maintaining the present populations of Europe's reindeer.

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