In last Thursday’s Nature Matters, we took a light-hearted look at reindeer and found out some fascinating facts about these animals associated with Christmas. Today’s article is also about reindeer, but it has a much more sombre tone. According to research by the American Geophysical Union, the number of reindeer in the world’s largest herd has fallen by nearly a half over the last 16 years.
This particular herd lives in a remote region in northern Russia and its size has been monitored for half a century. In 2000 it contained a total of 1 million individuals, but today there are only 600,000. So, what has caused this dramatic decline in the wild reindeer population? Well, it seems there are two things directly affecting reindeer numbers – and they are both caused by us humans.
The first culprit is, as you’ve probably guessed, global warming. The region the reindeer inhabit has increased by 1.5⁰C over the last 20 years. This has had a few negative consequences. Mosquito numbers are increasing and spreading disease. In addition, rivers are widening. Reindeer can swim but wider, faster rivers are becoming harder for them to cross. But the main impact on reindeer is the distance they have to travel to find ground cold enough for them.
The search for suitable land is getting harder for another reason, which brings us to culprit number two – human expansion. Unlike the reindeer, our numbers are increasing, and to feed us and supply our factories, we need more and more space. Land traditionally roamed by reindeer is now being built upon and so the animals must leave if they want to survive. Reindeer already migrate over vast distances every year, but the extra demand being put on them is taking its toll. A good many calves are now failing to reach adulthood.
Too many species are being put at risk because of our actions and global warming is a particular threat to Arctic animals. It’s not just the reindeer – polar bears are also under immense pressure. Let’s hope that we can put an end to climate change before it’s too late.
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