(image via: Nature.ca)
Peary Caribou (Rangifer tarandus pearyi), named for American arctic explorer Robert Peary, are the northernmost-ranging reindeer subspecies. As such, they have evolved a number of distinct adaptations to help them survive the exceptionally harsh climate at the top of the world, the main one being a reduction in average size. Female Peary Caribou weigh an average of 130 lbs (60 kg) while males can weigh up to 245 lbs (110 kg), making them by far the smallest of the North American reindeer subspecies.
Like other arctic animals, Peary Caribou grow thick white winter coats – in summer, they shed these coats to reveal shorter slate-gray fur. They also differ from most reindeer in that they travel in small groups as opposed to large herds: about a dozen in summer dropping to less than half that in winter. Though Peary Caribou live in the world’s most northern areas, the subspecies has suffered greatly from the effects of warming global temperatures. More frequent freeze-thaw cycles make it difficult for the caribou to forage in winter and scientists estimate their total population has fallen from roughly 40,000 in 1961 to under a thousand by 2009.
Finnish Forest Reindeer
(image via: BioLib/Klaus Rudloff)
Finnish Forest Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus fennicus) differ from the semi-domesticated reindeer of Scandinavian Lapland in a number of ways, mainly in size: males can weight up to 550 lbs (250 kg), making them the largest and heaviest of Eurasia’s reindeer. Centuries of hunting and habitat encroachment have reduced the range of this reindeer subspecies to isolated pockets of remote forest in Finland and neighboring Russia.
Finnish Forest Reindeer are well-adapted to their forested habitat in snowy northern Europe. Their antlers have a narrower spread and their hooves and footpads are wider, helping them travel more easily through thick woods and deep snow. Though endangered, efforts to reintroduce Finnish Forest Reindeer to their traditional habitats are being frustrated by the resurgence of another threatened species, the European Gray Wolf.