Reindeer: Santa’s Little Helpers?

Reindeer can be both wild and domesticated animals and are famous for their antlers. Both the female and male of the species have them, but the male’s are bigger. While males shed their antlers each winter, females only lose them after giving birth.

Reindeer can be found all over northern Russia in the tundra and taiga. They live across plains, mountainous regions, river valleys and forests. Some spend the entire summer on the Arctic coast to escape heat and nasty pests like gnats. As the temperature cools in the fall and winter, the reindeer head south into the forest. Wherever they are, reindeer feed on plant life. While they’ll consume nearly any kind of plant, lichen is the staple of their diet, along with various berries, mushrooms and grasses.

Reindeer live in herds, which help protect them from a major predator (the wolf), and are always on the move in search of food. The head of the herd protects the deer from enemies and other males. When they’re unable to escape from a predator, the reindeer utilize their antlers and hooves to batter him, often causing considerable damage. During mating season, males often fight each other intensely.

A typical reindeer in the wild lives 25 years (sometimes cut short by a poacher). Today humans continue to hunt the animal for its hide, antlers and meat. Over the last decades herds have become smaller, making it more difficult for the reindeer to defend themselves. Human activity and deforestation have made the problem even worse as their numbers continue to drop.