30th November 2022

Freedom for Animals campaigns against the use of reindeer and other live animals in festive events every year. Many events are turning away from exploiting animals, however there are still those that think it is acceptable to force these sensitive, vulnerable animals into stressful situations in busy shopping centres, city centres and bustling parades. We often focus on the unnatural environments they are pressured into, to raise awareness of their plight. But we must not forget their incredible natural history, ecology and behaviour, so here are just some of the reasons why they are so amazing!

1. Reindeer are so often fictionalised, but they are wild animals! 

Reindeer (called caribou in North America) are part of the Cervidae family, along with elk, deer, and moose, and although they share many of the same traits, there are also fascinating differences! Reindeer evolved in the polar and mountainous regions of the Arctic tundra and boreal forests of Europe, Canada and Alaska! They exist in two groups; tundra reindeer, who migrate and roam thousands of snow-covered miles, and forest reindeer who wander through woodland all year round. Taimyr reindeer from Siberia are documented to be the largest herd in the world, with numbers varying from 400,000 to 1,000,000 individuals!

2. Reindeer may not fly, but they can swim!

Reindeer have a double coat of fur that is supremely adapted to the tundra, and keeps them warm in the frigid cold. Woolly underneath and long, tubular hairs above, it provides perfect insulation and the camouflaged skin helps them blend into their natural environment. The hollow aspect also gives them increased buoyancy, and helps them swim strongly across wide and rough rivers such as the Yukon River in North America. They swim three times faster than the average human - at approximately 6 mph!

3.Reindeer bodies change to match the seasons!

Reindeer have a remarkable way of adapting to suit their environment. In the summer, their hoof pads become sponge-like to roam the soft and muddy tundra, but in winter, their footpads shrink and tighten to expose the hoof rim and grip snow or ice with ease! Their eye colour also changes from golden in the summer to blue in the winter, due to their light-reflecting cat’s eye (the tapetum lucidum) adjusting the type of light it reflects in different conditions.

4. Reindeer are masters of migration!

Not every reindeer roams thousands of miles, but those that do will travel eye-watering distances. According to the IUCN, some North American populations can travel up to 3,000 miles a year. That's the longest documented distance of any terrestrial mammal! The indigenous Sámi people were the first to ‘domesticate’ reindeer, by migrating with the herds and following their seasonal patterns, not penning them in farmland like many reindeer businesses often claim. The migratory practice is still followed to this day. 

5. Family herds are so important to reindeer, and their babies practically come out running!

Reindeer young are able to run up to 50mph, and as fast as other members of the herd, in as little as 90 minutes! With many reindeer migrating up to 25 miles a day, calves have evolved to stay with the family even in the toughest of conditions. They are the second-fastest land mammal to be able to run such distances at such a young age, falling only shortly behind the pronghorn antelope.

6. Reindeer eat plants and fungi!

Reindeer live primarily on lichen - aka reindeer moss - which grows in the harshest of climates. High in carbohydrates, vitamins and protein it provides staple nutrients for the herd in the coldest climates. They also forage on grasses, leaves, willow bark and, occasionally even mushrooms! They eat around 4-8 kg of vegetation a day.

7. Reindeer survived the Ice Age, but can they survive modern-day climate change?

Sadly, shrinking habitats and melting ice is leaving the species vulnerable and making their migrations much harder, with researchers concerned that the species could lose up to 90 percent of their habitat in the next 60 years. The IUCN has now classed the species as ‘vulnerable’ as they have experienced a 40% decline in population over the past 27 years. The ever-changing environment also creates a further risk of species isolation, which in turn could affect their genetic diversity and future ability to adapt to the ongoing pressures they face. Alongside climate change, oil exploration and other human interferences are negatively affecting the species survival.

8. All reindeer shed their antlers!

Unlike other species of deer, both male and female reindeer have antlers. Adult males often shed theirs after the mating season, from late August to September whereas the females go through the process later in October. Their antlers are made of bone, which needs a blood supply in order to grow. To do this, the bone is covered with a thin layer of hair - often described as ‘velvet’ - which acts as a protective cover and is covered in nerve endings to provide oxygen to the blood. The regrowth period is an extremely sensitive process for the reindeer, but when the antlers have fully grown, the blood supply is cut off and the ‘velvet’ skin strips away. Their antlers are important and used to attract other reindeer, protect themselves, and forage for food!

9. Rudolph’s nose isn’t the only special one!

Reindeer are the only deer species to have a fully fur covered nose. It’s evolved to help warm the incoming cold air before entering the lungs, thanks to tiny veins circulating the blood around that area - which can also create the appearance of a luminous red nose! This could be where the tale of Rudolph’s legendary nose came from! They also have an incredible sense of smell to sniff out food under a blanket of snow, locate danger and recognise direction for migration.

10. Reindeer deserve respect and freedom!

Reindeer have been exploited throughout generations, for their milk, fur and sheer strength. In more recent years, they have become synonymous with Christmas time and as Santa’s sleigh pullers, which has sadly led to a spike in them being used in films, adverts and festive events to provide human amusement. Reindeer, as we have discovered above, are wild, sensitive individuals, who travel thousands of miles in their natural arctic. They do not deserve to be transported into stressful environments, confined to small pens, or pulled down busy street parades to be harassed by humans.

Here's how we are fighting to stop the use of live animals in events, and how you can help!

- 30th November 2022