(image via: fauna/Milo Burcham)
Barren-ground Caribou (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus) generally occupy the northern Canadian tundra belt separating the main ranges of the Forest Caribou to the south and the Peary Caribou to the north. These reindeer are known to many of us through wildlife documentaries portraying their difficult tundra lifestyle north of the Arctic Circle.
Average-sized in both individual terms and in the herds they cluster in, Barren-ground Caribou scratch out a precarious existence in a harsh and unforgiving climate. Preyed on by both biting black flies and mosquitoes (an adult can lose up to a pint of blood per week!) and packs of hungry and persistent Arctic Wolves, Barren-ground Caribou migrate across the tundra as they have for many millennia and they have proved to be remarkably resilient to human-caused changes in their environment.
South Georgian Reindeer
(image via: Panoramio/Graham Wiggans)
Though not technically a subspecies, the reindeer of South Georgia are distinctive in their own right… or “were”, as we may soon be saying. These reindeer were imported from southern Norway in groups of ten or less on three separate occasions (1911, 1912 and 1925), the reason being that whalers who lived and worked on this remote, frigid, near-Antarctic island desired recreational hunting and the meat and furs which resulted from it.
In the mid-1960s whaling ceased and most of the human population of South Georgia left. The reindeer, now unhindered, increased their numbers to approximately 5,000 over the subsequent half-century. Population densities among the South Georgian Reindeer are many times that of their arctic cousins and the island’s fragile ecosystem has suffered significant damage due to overgrazing. As global warming is expected to expose pristine areas to the ravening reindeer, the decision was made to eradicate them. Roughly 3,500 animals were culled in 2013 with the remainder expected to be eliminated in 2014.
(image via: Apathetic Aperture)
Don’t mourn overly for the South Georgian Reindeer, however. In 2001, the government of the Falkland Islands (1,550 km or 965 miles to the west) imported 59 South Georgian Reindeer calves with the intention of preserving genetic diversity while establishing a commercial herd. These reindeer successfully birthed calves in 2003.