The world’s largest reindeer herd, the Taimyr herd, is now 40% smaller than it was in 2000.
The herd lives in the Taimyr Peninsula in North Russia. It is one of the most monitored groups of reindeer in the world, tracked for almost 50 years by aerial surveys and satellite imagery.
According to Andrey Petrov, from Arctic Centre at the University of Northern Iowa, US: “There is a substantial decline 0 and we are also seeing this with other wild reindeer declining rapidly in other parts of the world.”
The population had reached a peak of 1 million reindeer in 2000, and has now plummeted to only 600,000.
“Climate change is at least one of the variables. We know in the last two decades that we have had an increase in temperatures of about 1.5C overall. And that definitely impacts migration patterns.” Industrial development has also increased in the area, causing further disturbances to migration patterns.
In the summer, in order to avoid human activity, they have been migrating east and also north and to higher altitudes. Scientists hypothesize that it’s to reach cooler ground, and to avoid mosquitos, as they rise in populations due to warmer and more humid weather. “They just move and move and move to escape them,” said Prof Petrov.
This increased need to migrate means longer travel times and travel distances with their newborns, which means increased calf mortality. As the climate gets wetter as well, rivers have been growing in size, and so mortality is raised, as reindeer are forced to swim across them.
Higher altitudes also mean more scarce food resources, which also affects mortality rate.
Stopping the Decline
Petrov notes the importance of stopping this decline: “Reindeer are tremendously important for biodiversity – they are part of the Arctic food chain and without them other species would be in trouble,” he said.
“But on the other hand, in all the areas they inhabit, they are vital for people’s survival. Thousands and thousands of people rely on wild reindeer; it is the basis of their subsistence economy. So it’s about human sustainability too.”