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Rangifer tarandus 


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Cetartiodactyla Cervidae

Scientific Name: Rangifer tarandus
Species Authority: (Linnaeus, 1758)
Regional Assessments:
Common Name(s):
English Reindeer, Caribou, Peary Caribou
French Renne
Spanish Reno
Cervus tarandus Linnaeus, 1758
Taxonomic Notes: The world’s Caribou and Reindeer are classified as a single species Rangifer tarandus. Reindeer is the European name for the species while in North America, the species is known as Caribou. Here we use either name or Rangifer.

Identification of subspecies has changed over time (Banfield 1961, Geist 2007) and currently, Grubb (2005) lists 14 sub-species of which two are extinct: eogroenlandicus and dawsoni, however, the latter may have been an island dwarf form (Byun et al. 2002). In Russia, the use of subspecies differs from Grubb (2005) as angustirostris is recognized but not buskensis (I. Mizin pers. comm.). The subspecies are distinguished largely on skeletal and skull measurements, antler architecture and behaviour. The major groupings of subspecies are Boreal forest, continental tundra and high Arctic island. Based on current abundance, continental tundra caribou are the most numerous (56%) relative to mountain (19%), the forest (14%) and Arctic island (11%).

The current diversity of Rangifer resulted from local adaptations, which followed large-scale changes in distribution as continental glaciations advanced and retreated during the Pleistocene (Yannic et al. 2013). Analyses of mitochondrial and nucleotide DNA reveal that glaciations divided Rangifer into two lineages. The ice sheets were more extensive in North America. Thus, the Euro-Beringia lineage was restricted to Alaska while the North American lineage was restricted to south of the ice sheets. The Euro-Beringia lineage is genetically the most varied and is widely distributed from Eurasia to northwestern America also including Greenland, Svalbard and the Canadian Arctic island archipelagos (Yannic et al. 2013). The second lineage, the North American lineage (essentially woodland caribou), has less genetic variation and a more restricted distribution limited to Newfoundland/Labrador and eastern Canada. After deglaciation about 10,000 years ago, changing distribution during recolonization, secondary contact between the two lineages occurred in central and western Canada (Weckworth et al. 2012, Yannic et al. 2013).

Genetic variability is typically high among the larger migratory herds of migratory tundra Caribou (Zittlau 2004) because the effective population size is large and geographic barriers are largely lacking. Elsewhere in the mountains, genetic variation reveals a complex history influenced by events including ancient volcanic eruptions, founder events, geography and changing abundance and distribution of neighbouring herds (Kuhn et al. 2010, Serrouya et al. 2012). On the arctic islands, genetic variation is reduced because those populations have been through severe reductions in abundance with consequent genetic bottlenecks and genetic drift (Zittlau 2004, Petersen et al. 2010).

Dispersal whether innate or environmental is largely unrecorded in Rangifer except at the scale of genetic migration. DNA analyses have revealed low rates of male-biased genetic flow between neighbouring and geographically dispersed Rangifer (Boulet et al. 2005, Roffler et al. 2012).

The subspecies designations are based on an outdated taxonomy and are inconsistent with current understanding of evolutionary relationships and ecology (Flagstad and Røed 2003, Zittlau 2005, Røed 2005). However, in the context of conservation and management, recognizable and credible ‘conservation units’ or ‘evolutionary significant units’ are essential. In Canada, for example, COSEWIC (2012) assessed all available information to create 12 designatable units to recognize variability in form, ecology and genetics previously combined in four sub-species. We will refer to recognizable conservation units throughout this assessment as these are the basis for estimating abundance. Then we have summed the subspecies or conservation units to assess Rangifer at the species level.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable A2a ver 3.1
Year Published: 2016
Date Assessed: 2015-12-24
Assessor(s): Gunn, A.
Reviewer(s): Brook, S.M. & McShea, W.J.
Contributor(s): Cuyler, C., Mizin, I., Panzacchi, M., Russell, D., Seip, D., Sipko, T., Strand, O., Henttonen, H. & Tikhonov, A.
In 2015, Rangifer tarandus is categorized as Vulnerable A2a due to an observed 40% decline over three generations (about 21-27 years) across the circum-Arctic countries, when Rangifer declined from about 4,800,000 to 2,890,410 individuals. Uncertainty is high about the extent of the decline and the under-lying mechanisms except at a general level. Extent and causes of the decline vary with region and subspecies. Causes of declines include habitat changes, which do not appear reversible within three generations.

The species is largely migratory and gregarious and is thus susceptible to declines as a result of landscape changes, including the establishment of barriers (related to human activities and infrastructure development), which can disrupt migration routes and destroy seasonal habitat. Unregulated hunting, time lags in management and habitat alteration leading to habitat loss, fragmentation, and changes in predation are mechanisms for declines. Furthermore a warming climate will have complex and interacting effects and concerns are strong about a warmer climate exacerbating effects of disease and parasites including the possibility of epidemics. Additionally, despite monitoring, uncertainty remains about abundance and trends as well as trends in habitat loss which suggests the observed declines in Rangifer abundance and habitat may continue over a further three generations.
Previously published Red List assessments:
  • 2008 – Least Concern (LC)
  • 1996 – Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • 1965 – Status inadequately known-survey required or data sought

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Rangifer is widespread occurring between 50 and 81 degrees of latitude around the Arctic in the northwestern U.S., Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Norway, Finland, Russia and Mongolia. The global distribution was expanded by introducing domesticated Reindeer which became feral to Iceland, and to islands in the southern Atlantic Ocean (Kerguelen, Falkland and until recently, South Georgia Island). Greenland, Finland, Mongolia, Norway and Russia also have domesticated Reindeer which have genetically and or demographically contributed to wild Reindeer populations (Røed 2005, Røed et al. 2014, C. Cuyler pers. comm. 2015). Those populations which include domesticated Reindeer are not included in this assessment.

The geographic range has contracted and become fragmented during the previous hundred years mostly due to hunting and landscape changes with increased settlement, agriculture, forestry and the introduction of Reindeer herding. Analyses of current and historic distribution are available at national scales for some countries. By the early 1900s, forest Reindeer had disappeared from Finland ( although in the 1950s, a small area was re-colonized from neighbouring Russia. In Norway, the cumulative ranges have contracted to about half the size of the historic range (Lund 2004). Russian Reindeer distribution has contracted to the north and west and become fragmented over 85% its range (Syroechkovski 2000).

The Canadian geographic ranges of mountain and Boreal Caribou have contracted: over the last 150 years, Boreal Caribou have been extirpated from about half of their former range: approximately 60% in Alberta, 50% in Ontario, and 40% in British Columbia (Hummel and Ray 2008, COSEWIC 2014). In eastern Canada, the current Atlantic-Gaspésie population is the remnant of a larger distribution that included much of northeastern Canada and USA but which disappeared by the early 1900s (COSEWIC 2014). For mountain Caribou in BC, by 2002, 40% of their annual range had shrunk (COSEWIC 2014).

Less information has been compiled regarding changes in the current historic distribution for continental tundra Caribou, and is complicated by the 40-60 year cycles of abundance with contractions and expansions of distribution. Historic declines in Alaska of the Fortymile herd between the 1920s and 1970s, led to a contraction of range size of 25%. The risk is that contraction of the historic range is relatively poorly documented and consequently the current distribution is considered ‘normal’, this could be considered an example of a shifting baseline (Pauly 1995).
Countries occurrence:
Canada; Finland; Greenland; Mongolia; Norway; Russian Federation; United States
Falkland Islands (Malvinas); Iceland; South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
Additional data:
Upper elevation limit (metres):2000
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:Overall across the circum-arctic countries, the trend is an inferred 40% decline over the previous 10-25 years, when Rangifer declined from about 4,800,000 to 2,890,410. There are national, but no global, databases to assess conservation status, although the Circum-Arctic Rangifer Assessment Monitoring and Assessment (CARMA) network tracks trends in migratory tundra Rangifer. For this IUCN assessment, we used data from journal publications, web sites, published and unpublished reports and expert knowledge. We did not use in-filling methods to bring estimates to the same reporting period as survey methodologies varied from expert opinion to ground and aerial survey-based estimates. Consequently, abundance estimates have variable measurement error (as described by, for example Baskin 2005, Cuyler 2007, Bjerketvedt et al. 2014). Estimates of abundance vary as to whether adults only are reported. Estimating population size is often infrequent which influences describing trends over 3 generations (21-27 years) and we were occasionally limited to assessing trend over 10 years. Generation time is estimated at 7-9 years based on barren-ground Caribou adult survival and fecundity as input to the IUCN generation length calculation which uses mean survival values (generation length = (1/mortality rate) + age at first reproduction). For subpopulations with adult survival data, a similar range of values is calculated. However, calculation of generation time is complicated (Hernandez-Suarez 2011), as it depends on the population age structure and average age.

As well as the 40% overall decline during the past 10-30 years, the abundance of wild Reindeer and Caribou has declined since historic times (Bergerud 1974, Syroechkovski 2000, Festa-Bianchet et al. 2011) especially for forest and mountain Rangifer. In Russia, in the late 1800s, there may have been 5 million Caribou which rapidly declined to about 600,000 by about 1900 and 250,000 by the 1960s before recovering to peak in the 1990s (T. Sipko pers. comm. 2015). For the continental tundra Rangifer, any question of historic declines is complicated by the longer-term (decadal) cycles in abundance (Meldgaard 1986, Zalatan et al. 2006, Joly et al. 2011). Generally, many continental tundra herds peaked in the 1990s then declined. The current declines are less than historic minimums for several Canadian continental tundra populations despite management actions such as hunting restrictions. In Norway, abundance has recovered since hunting caused historic declines until hunting was halted in 1902-06. However, it is uncertain if the current declines are less or similar to the historic levels.

Typically, declining abundance and distribution can fragment populations. However, trends in numbers of Rangifer populations are complicated as their definitions are not standardized. While populations (herds) are relatively easily recognized from calving and post-calving to rut movements for continental tundra and mountain Caribou, terminology is more problematic for forest Reindeer and boreal Caribou. Additionally, fragmentation and introductions have altered population numbers so any relationship between overall declines and numbers of populations is unclear. Three examples reveal the complexity. Firstly, in Norway, the two or three large historic sub-populations of mountain reindeer historically declined by the early 1900s and recovered but into a landscape increasingly fragmented by roads, railways, energy production plants and tourist resorts. The developments blocked ancient migration routes (Panzacchi et al. 2013a) and the former two or three populations became fragmented.

The second example of complexity in interpretation for trends in populations is on Canada’s island of Newfoundland, 12 natural populations were the basis for an additional 20 introduced populations (COSEWIC 2014). The third example, is in Alaska, during peak numbers, two small mountain herds ‘disappeared’ when a larger and increasing neighboring herd expanded their range and overlapped the smaller herd’s range (Harper 2013). The larger migratory tundra populations mostly persist for decades, even as their abundances increases and decreases (Gunn et al. 2012).

Alaska: Overall, the total number in 27 herds for coastal tundra and mountain Caribou (Harper 2013) have declined about 40% in abundance from approximately 1.1 million Caribou at the peak of herd sizes (1994±2.3SE) to 660,000 (2010±0.03SE). Currently, most (20) herds are 2,500 Caribou or less while the other 7 herds are 30,000 or more. Six of the smaller herds may have increased but uncertainty remains about the earlier estimates, three of the larger mountain herds have increased (with predator and hunting management) while three of four coastal tundra herds are declining. Most monitoring is annual for survival and productivity and frequent estimates of herd size for the larger herds.

Canada: Overall, Caribou have declined in abundance over three generations by an average of 52% to the current (2015) estimated 1.3 million Caribou. The decline is unevenly distributed among the different types of Caribou. Monitoring boreal Caribou is mostly dependent on monitoring mortality and productivity while population abundance is directly estimated for mountain and migratory tundra caribou from sample counts during calving, post-calving or fall. However, the frequency of monitoring varies considerably.

Boreal Caribou have continued to decline since 2002 despite conservation efforts to mitigate the cumulative impacts of oil and gas development, forestry, and other land use activities. For 37 of 52 boreal subpopulations where trend data are available, 81% are in decline. Population surveys prior to 2002 estimated that there are 33,000 forest-dwelling caribou in the boreal population and in 2014, an ongoing decline of >30% of the boreal Caribou is inferred.

Caribou on the island of Newfoundland declined by 68% since 2002 for the 15 natural and 22 introduced local populations. A remnant of the former southern extent of Caribou in Canada’s southeast, the Gaspésie Caribou declined further since 1950 to about 120 adults despite being in a national park and predator removal.

Overall for mountain Caribou, status is uncertain as trend is measured for 18 of 45 sub-populations over the last 5 years representing approximately 54% of the current population, 9 are declining and only two are increasing. Of concern is that 26 herds are <500 individuals, 13 are <250 and two have disappeared (COSEWIC 2014).

On Canada’s arctic islands, the overall trend for Peary Caribou, R. t. pearyi, is a decline to about 14,000 individuals by 2014 from 22,000 estimated in 1987. Historically, Peary Caribou abundance was higher being an estimated 25,845 for the High Arctic Islands in 1961 and about 18,000 for the mid-arctic islands in 1973-1980 but infrequent monitoring impedes assessing total numbers (COSEWIC 2004, SARC 2012). Peary Caribou occur as 4 populations (island groupings) one of which has essentially disappeared since the 1980s, one has declined and stabilized at low numbers while the north-western island grouping has been through two sharp declines followed by recovery. The trend for the northeastern and southeastern populations is uncertain given a low frequency of abundance estimates. An additional type of Caribou is Dolphin and Union (R.t. groenlandicus x pearyi) on the large mid-arctic island of Victoria. The population has not recovered to the abundance recorded in the early 1900s. Currently the population is stable or declining at 27,000 between 1997 and 2007 (SARC 2013, Dumond and Lee 2013).

Sixty percent of Canadian Caribou are barren-ground Caribou which in 2013, numbered an estimated 729,000 individuals in possibly 11 subpopulations. Six populations are regularly monitored. Since the peak in the mid-1990s, the overall decline has been approximately 45-50%, with six subpopulations having declined by 70-98% from peak populations in the mid-1990s. Caribou on Baffin Island declined from over 100,000 to about 5,000 and for the Bathurst herd in the central Arctic Canada, the decline was from 460,000 in 1986 to about 20,000 in 2015 with the decline accelerating in the later stages (SARC 2013, CBC 2015) Two of the largest herds of migratory Caribou are the woodland Caribou sub-species although they are strongly migratory with aggregated calving. The George River declined from a peak abundance of 776,000 in 1993 to 14,200 in 2014 while the Leaf River peaked at 638,000 in 2001 and had declined 32% to 430,000 by 2011 (S. Coté pers. comm. 2014)

The overall trend for Caribou on Greenland’s west coast for 2004-2015 is an approximate 30% decline and, conservatively, the total number of Caribou in 2015 is about 73,430 excluding three populations with feral Reindeer mixed with the Caribou (Cuyler 2004, 2015). Caribou abundance is cyclic with two cycles since 1721 with short-lived peak abundance, rapid decline and extended periods of scarcity that may last a century or more before numbers recover (Cuyler et al. 2011). The most recent peak may have occurred in the late 1990s but changes in census techniques obscure trends (Cuyler et al. 2011, Cuyler unpublished). Possible causes of the previous abrupt declines include severe weather involving the entire coast in combination with overgrazed ranges, and possibly, hunting (C. Cuyler pers. comm.). Although only the four largest populations are monitored for abundance through aerial surveys, all 11 sub-populations have annual harvest monitoring (Cuyler 2015).

Norway: There are approximately 6,000 wild Reindeer in four populations restricted to the mountains of southern Norway (Strand et al. 2012, O. Strand pers. comm.). Their numbers over three generations are relatively stable based on 3 of the 4 populations which are regularly monitored through minimum counts. Also in the mountains of Norway are another 8 populations which were previously mixed with semi-domesticated reindeer and 11 populations which originated from releases of semi-domesticated reindeer (Reimers 2007, Røed 2005, Røed et al. 2014). The behavior and reproduction performance of the reindeer is influenced by the semi-domesticated reindeer (Reimers et al. 2005, 2014). Overall, the trend for all 23 populations is increasing to stable under a regulated hunting regime. In 2002, the estimated total number for all populations was 22,000-29,000 and in 2015, 33,560-34,360 (O. Strand pers. comm., Strand et al. 2012). However, the populations that have been mixed with semi-domesticated reindeer and which originated from the release of semi-domesticated reindeer have not been included in the calculations of population size (nationally or globally) for this re-assessment.

Svalbard Reindeer R. t. platyrynchus numbered 10,100 individuals in 2009 (Sysselmannen på Svalbard 2009), an increase since the early 1900s. The Reindeer were hunted for 100s of years but the introduction of firearms and commercial hunting in the 1860s led to reduced numbers and local extinctions. Hunting was halted in 1925. The extent that current abundance and distribution have returned to historic levels is not reported. Recent trends are available for three of the 13 populations (Adventdalen, Reindalen ,Brøggerhalvøya) as their distribution is restricted by glaciers to peninsulas and coastal lowlands. The trend is a 65% increase in the three populations from 1,217 in 1985 to 1,871 in 2012. A fourth herd, Edgeøya (northeastern Svalbard) was last counted in 2006 (Reimers 2012) and was considered stable or decreasing (Aanes et al. 2003, Reimers 2012).
Finland: Forest Reindeer are remnant of their former numbers and distribution as the Reindeer disappeared from across central and southern Finland in the early 1900s, but re-colonized from neighboring Russia in the 1940s ( Numbers increased from 1992-2001 when 1,700 forest Reindeer were counted in Kainuu, eastern Finland but subsequently declined to 800 individuals by 2014. A second Finnish population started in 1984, when 10 forest Reindeer from Kainuu were released at Suomenselkä, central Finland and increased to about 1,100 in 2014 (Miettunen 2015). The decline in Kainuu’s wild forest Reindeer since 2001 seems to have been caused by higher calf mortality from increasing numbers of wolves (Kojola et al. 2004), traffic accidents and movements into Russia.

Russia: Overall, abundance in Russia has declined 21% since 1990 compared to 2015 and the recorded abundance declined from 1,050,600 to 831,500 (I. Mitzin and T. Sipko pers. comm. 2015). The situation is quite different from North America as there are high numbers of domesticated Reindeer. The effect of domesticated Reindeer includes increased predator control as well as poaching and loss of the domesticated Reindeer to the wild Reindeer herds (Baskin 2005, Klokov 2004, Syroechkovski 2000).

Historically, wild Reindeer decreased since the mid-1800s to the early 1900s from as many as 5 million to less than 1 million. Abundance fluctuated during the 20th century with a peak in the early 1990s, then abundance declined. The declines in Reindeer number were mainly connected with social and economic changes in Russia. Regional status is variable and 23 populations or regions are listed in regional red books between 2001 and 2015 as being reduced to low numbers or declining (I. Mizin pers. comm. 2015).

Russia has a high diversity of wild Reindeer sub-species and recent declines are especially apparent for island, forest and mountain Reindeer. One population (Nizhny Novgorod) has disappeared and 19 populations are ranked as Endangered, Vulnerable or Near Threatened. Currently forest and mountain Reindeer in the Russian Plains (Karelia, Arkhangelsk, Komi and Nenets Autonomous District) are all listed in the Red Books and have declined 64% in 1991-2015 from 35,400 to 12,800 individuals while their distribution is highly fragmented and reduced.

The sub-species R. tarandus pearsoni restricted to Novaya Zemlya Island has declined 30% to 5,000 individuals but Reindeer on the other Arctic islands have declined at a higher rate (73%) from 41,000 to 11,000 individuals between 1991 and 2015 (I. Mitzin and T. Sipko pers. comm. 2015). In eastern Russia, R. tarandus phylarchus in the forests on the Kamchatka Peninsula have declined since the 1950s (Mosolov 1996) and more recently, declined about 50% from 4,500 to 2,300 (1991-2015). In the Russian Far East and Pacific coast, mountain-tundra Reindeer are stable in trend but with a risk of fragmentation into small isolated populations. In southeastern Russia, R. tarandus angustirostris (transbaikal slender-snouted Reindeer) is a forest Reindeer and difficult to survey, but apparently reduced to several hundred animals.

The most numerous sub-species are the migratory tundra Reindeer (R. t. sibiricus) currently numbering 626,000 individuals (North Yukutia, Yamal, and Taimyr ) which have declined. The western Siberian tundra Reindeer (Yamal) have declined from 3,000 to 2,000 between 1991 and 2015 on ranges impacted by industrial development (I. Mitzin and T. Sipko pers. comm. 2015). Uboni et al. (2015) report that Taimyr and North Yakutia (Yana-Indirka, and Sundrun) tundra Reindeer had peaked in the 1990s and then subsequently had declined 25% to 624,000 individuals, while the Lena-Olenek herd increased from 55,000 in 1985 to 90,000 in 2001. The population is heavily harvested at about 9,500-12,000 individuals per year (T. Sipko pers. comm. 2015). With the collapse of the domesticated reindeer industry in Chukotka in the 1980s and 1990s, the wild Reindeer in Chukotka increased rapidly from 33,000 in 1991 to 93,700 by 2015 (Klokov 2004, I. Mitzin and T. Sipko pers. comm. 2015)

Mongolia: Trends in abundance are unreported (Clark et al. 2006) for R. t. valentinae in northern Mongolia. The limited assessments indicate fewer than 1,000 wild reindeer (Clark et al. 2006).
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Number of mature individuals:2890400
Extreme fluctuations:UnknownPopulation severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Rangifer occupy a number of habitats from continental coastal plains to mountain ranges and Arctic islands, spanning high Arctic to Boreal forest. The Arctic island tundra habitats include high Arctic polar desert to semi-moist dwarf shrub tundra. The low-lying coastal plains on continental North America and Russia vary from narrow coastal strips of tundra to large low-lying extent of tussock and non-tussock graminoid tundra. The tree line transition zone also varies in width depending on elevation and climate and separates the tundra from the Boreal forests. In mountainous regions, elevation determines the level of the tree line and the transition between coniferous forest and montane tundra. Along the rugged southwestern coast of Greenland, the tundra is a relatively narrow vegetated band separated by deep fiords or glaciers reaching the coast.

Rangifer is a generalist herbivore with a diet dominated by lichens, forbs, sedges, grasses and shrubs. Foraging is seasonally selective and focused on individual plant species and selecting flower buds and unfolding leaves to maximize nutritional value (Russell et al. 1993). Winter diet is often largely lichens, which may occur as thick mats in many boreal coniferous forests. Rangifer is unusual among large-bodied herbivores as it can exploit lichens which, although high in digestible carbohydrates, are low in protein (Russell et al. 1993). Lichens are slow-growing and are periodically unavailable for decades after fires sweep through the forests. Caribou tend to avoid burnt areas preferring the forests 150 to 250 years after fires (Thomas et al. 1998).

Life History
Adult survival is typically high (80-90%), while calf survival is annually variable. The annual life-cycle starts with the cows being bred in the fall rut (September-October) and then calving in June after a gestation averaging 225–235 days (Bergerud 1975). The cow’s autumn body condition determines the age of first pregnancy and the annual likelihood that a cow will conceive. Barren-ground Caribou usually calve at 3 years of age and usually calve annually but reproductive pauses occur if a cow has not regained sufficient fat and protein reserves by the rut and thus does not conceive (Cameron 1994, Thomas and Kiliaan 1998). The climate across Rangifer distribution is highly seasonal, is characterized by a short snow-free plant growing season and a long winter when snow often adds to the energetic costs of moving and foraging. Climate is strongly regional and trends in climate differ across the regions (Whitfield and Russell 2005). Correspondingly, Rangifer have a strongly seasonal cycle of accumulating fat and protein reserves which are high prior to the rut and lowest during calving (females) and after the rut (males).

Caribou are relatively long-lived, with females living as long as 12–16 years, and males for a few years less (Thomas and Killiaan 1998). Single births are usual (Thomas and Killiaan 1998). The calf is able to stand within a few minutes of birth and in two to three days can keep pace with the maternal cow. Generation time, used in species assessments, is estimated at 8-9 years based on barren-ground Caribou adult survival and fecundity.

Breeding Strategy
The sexes differ in body size, breeding pelage and antler size. Rangifer is polygynous (a male mates with more than one female) and the breeding system is thought to be a harem system. Cows have several oestrus cycles of 10-12 days (Ropstad 2000) and conceptions are highly synchronous within a herd during the four- to five-week mating season (Dauphiné and McClure 1974). Less information is recorded about the rut strategies of the forest-dwelling Rangifer (caribou and valentinae). Female reproductive strategies are relatively flexible with the cows trading off their survival against reproductive investment during conception, foetal growth (birth mass) or lactation. The strategy is an adaption to annual variations in energetic costs and the availability of forage.

Movement Patterns
Rangifer characteristically is a constant migrant, the migrations from winter to calving and post-calving ranges and then from fall to winter ranges are a striking global phenomena. Migratory behavior is associated with gregariousness. Although the highly gregarious nature of the tundra herds is conspicuous, forest Reindeer is also gregarious although the numbers are less. In Finland, forest Reindeer during calving are dispersed but the Reindeer is gregarious during the rut and into winter (Miettunen 2014).

Abundance influences the scale of seasonal movements: when abundance is high, migration distances can be long (thousands of kms) from wintering deep in the boreal forests to calving and summering on the tundra. For some herds, calving and summer range is an Arctic island and the winter range is the neighboring continental mainland (Poole et al. 2010, Baskin 2005). Geographic fidelity to calving and summer ranges tends to be high both in migratory tundra Caribou and forest Reindeer (Pulliainen et al. 1986). When abundance is low, fall and winter ranges most often contract toward the calving and summer ranges and the length of the migration pathways is correspondingly reduced, often by hundreds of kilometres. On the arctic islands, when abundance is low, Caribou are dispersed in individual home ranges, as abundance increases, seasonal migrations increase in distance and the degree of gregariousness (Gunn et al. 2014).

Mountain Caribou rely on migrating between lowland winter ranges to high elevation calving and summer ranges on the alpine tundra. Forest (and woodland Caribou) Reindeer are dispersed at low densities and undertake relatively small-scale seasonal migrations with selecting calving areas in boggy areas on small islands in lakes. In Greenland with its narrow coastal strip of ice-free land that is dominated by fiords and mountains, movement is restricted and generally oriented on an east-west axis.
Generation Length (years):8-9
Movement patterns:Full Migrant

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: Local meat consumption and hide use; some commercial use antlers.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): For mountain and forest Rangifer, landscape changes from forestry and industrial developments especially roads and seismic lines lead to changes in vegetation and vulnerability to predation (Leblond et al. 2013, Johnson et al. 2015). However, despite knowing the relationship between landscape changes and predation, management is not yet effective, as declines of boreal Caribou have continued (COSEWIC 2014, Johnson et al. 2015). Landscape changes, especially transportation infrastructures, energy production plants and tourist resorts, often represent barriers for migrations, and are responsible for Reindeer population fragmentation in Norway (Panzacchi et al. 2013a,b; 2015). Some landscape changes, include mining about which concerns are locally strong, include dust and cumulative effects. Less is known about population versus individual responses to industrial development. An exception is the Central Arctic Herd in Alaska. The western part of the calving ground has been intensively developed as oilfields with networks of roads, pipelines and drill pads. Calf body mass and survival was affected by this development (Arthur and Del Vecchio 2009), but initially the herd increased partly as a result of a trade-off between development costs in better regulated hunting.

Unregulated hunting and competition with domesticated Reindeer are documented threats for continental tundra Reindeer (Baskin 2005). However, mechanisms underlying widespread declines are incompletely understood, especially the role of predation, nutrition, disease and parasite interactions. Rangifer have been harvested for thousands of years and harvest is a part of the life and culture of northern aboriginal people. But, technology has changed hunting effort which is often uncoupled from Rangifer abundance leading to delays in detecting effects of unsustainable hunting. The conditions when, and if, harvesting becomes a threat are complex and although Rangifer is subject to management planning, the realities are that management responses are frequently hampered by mistrust of scientific data, disagreements about causes of declines, and time lags in institutional responses to implement management actions (Kolpaschikov et al. 2015).

Climate change is rapid in the Arctic and its effects will be complex as relative and absolute forage availability changes, the timing of snow melt, ice freeze-up and break-up changes. A detrimental effect that can change the context of other threats is changes in the frequency of rain-on-snow or other icing events (Hansen et al. 2011, 2014) especially on the Arctic islands. Icing events can cause widespread changes in movements and deaths especially of calves and adult bulls. A warmer climate will have complex effects on parasites (Kutz et al. 2014) as some are adapted to a cool climate and their development may be reduced in warmer temperatures (Hoar et al. 2012). Warmer temperatures will change the distribution of intermediate hosts and vectors such as mosquitoes. In Finland, recent warmer summers increased mosquito activity leading to outbreaks of Setaria in Finnish Reindeer, causing many deaths (Laaksonen et al. 2010).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Most Rangifer herds are within management or conservation plans, and the conservation status of most subspecies and populations are nationally assessed. The ratings for conservation status (nationally rated as endangered, threatened or special concern) based on designated units (Canada) or oblasts (regions in Russia) emphasize the vulnerability of woodland and mountain Rangifer. Only 4% of continental tundra Rangifer and 12% of Arctic Island are included in conservation categories compared to 84% of mountain and forest Caribou. In Russia, wild Reindeer are assessed and listed by conservation status in regional Red Books. The national Committee On the Endangered Wildlife In Canada (COSEWIC) has assessed or re-assessed almost all Caribou for their conservation status using similar criteria as the IUCN’s (COSEWIC 2014). The assessments lead to either recovery or special management planning which includes identification and protection of critical habitat.

Unlike many migratory species, Rangifer is not a recognized species within the Convention of Migratory Species probably because few migrations cross international boundaries. Two Rangifer populations annually range over international boundaries between Canada and the US (Selkirk Mountain Caribou and the Porcupine herd) and international cooperation is through agreements. In Finland, forest Reindeer are listed as Near Threatened under Appendix III (Protected fauna species) of the 1979 Bern Convention (The Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats). The forest Reindeer in Finland seasonally move across the border with Russia and the degree of monitoring and cooperation is high (Miettunen 2015). In Norway, the 23 populations of Reindeer were collectively assessed as Least Concern in 2015 ( The US assigns Threatened status to the Selkirk Mountain Caribou although the herd is reduced to a few individuals.

Management systems are summarized in Klein (2005) and typically, their emphasis is on tracking population trends and vital rates and adjusting hunting for migratory tundra and mountain Rangifer. Although many herds are monitored, lags in management actions lead to accelerated declines especially where hunting effort through technological advances is uncoupled from trends in abundance (Kolpaschikov et al. 2015, Bjerketvedt et al. 2014, Strand et al. 2012). In Russia, socio-political factors have a greater effect than decadal climate patterns in shaping trends in abundance (Uboni et al. 2015). In Norway where the Reindeer ranges are increasingly modified, landscape management is becoming more important than reliance on harvest management (Kaltenborn et al. 2014).

Landscape management includes special use and protected areas and experience with their effectiveness varies. Despite progress, conservation planning has not reversed or even stemmed the landscape causes of declines (Johnson et al. 2015, Ray et al. 2015). In some areas, hunting restrictions, population augmentation and predator management have taken precedence in areas where industrial land use changes continued unabated and this can lead to controversy (Brook et al. 2015). Protected areas such as national parks are not a complete answer to Rangifer conservation if they are accompanied by increasing tourism and recreational activities.

Rangifer includes some of the globe’s largest and longest migrations with tens of thousands animals moving 100s of kilometres. Thus the effectiveness of protected areas in conservation will depend on planning a network of protection for annual ranges (Runge et al. 2015). However, current protected areas are at the scale of seasonal ranges rather than a network of land management or adequate protected areas to integrate conservation of seasonal ranges (Gunn et al. 2014). Emphasis for migratory tundra caribou has been on protecting calving grounds as in Canada where three national parks provide year-round protection for part of the calving grounds of five herds. In Russia, the Taimyrski zapovednik established a nature reserve in 1979 which covers about 6% of the Taimyr herd’s calving areas.

Citation: Gunn, A. 2016. Rangifer tarandus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T29742A22167140. . Downloaded on 30 June 2016.
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