Wild reindeer live in extreme environments. Winter challenges include snow, ice, wind, and extreme cold, while in the summer the reindeer have to cope with high temperatures, humidity and insects. In order to survive an extreme environment, wild reindeer need to be extremely adaptable with respect to physiology, herd behaviour and habitat use.
We often say that wild reindeer have a very marginal existence. This means that they are very easily disturbed, with negative consequences for health and reproductive ability. Continuous disturbance will reduce the time reindeer have to eat. This will lead to a lower body weight, which in turn will reduce the reindeer’s ability to tolerate a harsh climate. In addition, the reproductive cycle may be affected so that calves are born later in the year, which means that the newly born reindeer will have a shorter grazing season before the winter. The calves will have less time to accumulate the necessary fat reserves to get them through the winter.
A hundred years ago wild reindeer were facing extinction in Norway as a result of too many animals being killed. Protected status and increasingly stringent hunting regulations allowed the population to gradually increase again.
Today, however, wild reindeer are exposed to other threats that are every bit as serious. The most serious threat to wild reindeer is encroachment on its habitat. The other serious, but more unpredictable threat is climate change.