THE SVALBARD REINDEER

 

Svalbard reindeer are significantly smaller than their relatives in Scandinavia, Russia, Canada and Alaska. They have shorter legs, more compact body, and are very well adapted to the extreme conditions of Svalbard. You will find reindeer mainly on Spitsbergen in the wide, long valleys that turn green in summer, but they do also venture into more barren lands on the east coast.

Copyright: Roy MangersnesSvalbard reindeer are found throughout the archipelago and is sometimes seen wandering great distances. Copyright: Roy Mangersnes

The Svalbard reindeer is one of at least 7 subspecies of reindeer. The Svalbard reindeer only exists in Svalbard (endemic).

Because this reindeer does not have a nomadic lifestyle like most of its mainland forms, it has gradually developed shorter legs.

Only the male has antlers in most ungulates. In reindeer, both female and males have antlers, but only female will keep them through the winter. The bigger antler, the more dominant, and the females with calves and females that need extra energy due to pregnancy thus get access to the best feeding patches by keeping their antler during winter.

Because of global warming, Svalbard experience more rain and warmer winters. When mild weather is followed by freezing, like when snow and ice melts, or rain falls and then freeze, and cover of ice is formed near the ground. This prevents the reindeer to dig down to access the grass like they normally do in winters with soft snow. Mild winters can thus strongly affect chances of survival for the Svalbard reindeer.


Copyright: Roy MangersnesReindeer service the harsh Svalbard winter by digging through the snow for food. Copyright: Roy Mangersnes

Copyright: Roy MangersnesEven if the Svalbard reindeer has shorter legs than the other reindeer subspecies they are still very agile. Copyright: Roy Mangersnes

Learn more about wildlife on Svalbard
The information on this webpage is from the Amazing Arctic book by Eirik Grønningsæter. If you want to learn more about the amazing Arctic wildlife, order a copy of the book.