Designates from Deer

There is only one species in the deer family. In Eurasia, this is known as a deer or reindeer that originates from it. In Northern America, the animal is called caribou and there are around five million of them.  There are also around four million semi-domesticated or wild reindeer living in the area covering the west part of Scandinavia all the way to southeast Siberia.

Deer are the only big herbivores living in the open tundra of Eurasia. In North America, there are caribous, but also musk oxen. The wild deer almost disappeared due to hunting, but a small part stayed in the Kola Peninsula and the mountains between Oslo and Trondheim in Norway.

Reindeer have adapted well to different living conditions from the tundra of Greenland to Svalbard and to northern coniferous forest areas. On the basis of the living conditions the subspecies can be divided into two different ecological types: wild forest deer living in the forests and wild deer living in the mountains. Currently, deer are divided into several different subspecies and three of them live in Eurasia: wild deer i.e. reindeer that is tamed from the wild deer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus), Finnish forest deer (Rangifer tarandus fennicus) and Svalbard reindeer (Rangifer tarandus platyrhynchus).

The short-legged Svalbard reindeer has several features to adapt to the oligotrophic arctic environment. Image: Wikimedia Commons / Per Harald Olsen

The subspecies have adapted well to the climate in their living areas. The Svalbard reindeer has short legs to prevent the heat loss in extreme weathers. It collects a considerable fat layer to cope through the long and dark winter.

When looking at a wild forest reindeer living in the forests, their legs are a lot longer because there are usually thick layers of snow. It is also much more timid than reindeer. It skillfully uses the surroundings of its living area. In the beginning of the summer, the wild forest reindeer move to mire areas with their calves. The small calves run around easily even in the very soft swamps. The population of the wild forest reindeer has declined rapidly in the Kainuu area in the 2000s. It is presumed that the reasons for this are growing populations of large carnivores and continuous fragmentation of peaceful wilderness areas.

Wild forest reindeer and reindeer interbreed. Even though they are separate species, it is difficult to recognize them in the nature.


Wild forest reindeer

More information on wild forest reindeer in Finland РMetsähallitus

Wild reindeer (Norway)