Svalbard Reindeer

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The Svalbard Archipelago has its own subspecies of reindeer (Caribou).  Cut off from other members of their species for about 5,000 years, the archipelago’s reindeer have evolved into a shorter, stockier, and overall smaller iteration of the reindeer found elsewhere in the European Arctic.

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Reindeer in other parts of the Arctic gather in big — sometimes huge — herds.  The Svalbard Reindeer do not.  We saw them in groups of from two to four animals, which is typical for them.

They are somewhat clumsy looking animals, with heads that appear to be too big for their bodies, thick legs that seem to be a bit too short, and big-bellied frames.   Looks can be deceiving.  These animals can climb like goats and are successful in the most challenging environments.  One afternoon we watched a pair of reindeer high on a mountain slope, as they placidly foraged in snow that came halfway to the tops of their legs.

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Reindeer are unlike other deer species in that both males and females bear antlers.

We found some of the reindeer that we encountered to be curious about humans.  One morning we watched a pair of these animals as they grazed in a large flatland adjacent to the sea.   When they saw us they raised their heads and, to our surprise, trotted up to us to get a closer look.  At a distance of about 15 yards this pair suddenly stopped, turned, and ran away.  But, then, their curiosity got the better of them, and they returned to check us out again, not once, but twice more.

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At times the Svalbard Reindeer have been hunted ruthlessly for their meat and hides.  We saw a long-abandoned hunters’ camp which had a large pile of reindeer skulls and antlers on its grounds.  Hunting these animals would not be much sport, certainly not if they are as curious about humans as was the pair that we encountered.

Pictures taken with a Canon 5Diii, 400 DO, ISOs, apertures and shutter speeds varied.  All pictures taken at aperture preferred setting.

3 responses to “Svalbard Reindeer”

  1. Tom Munson says :

    Great work, Steve. The last pair have their eyes on you.


  2. Sue says :


  3. Liesl Kii says :

    As always, very informative commentary!

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