Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

Reindeer

(Rangifer tarandus)

Habitat and Distribution: Found in Arctic and subarctic tundra and northern woodlands around the North Pole, extending down into North America, Greenland, Europe, Scandinavia, and the former Soviet Union.

Size: 34-55 inches at shoulder; 120-400 pounds; antlers 20-50 inches long. Males are larger than females.

Wild Diet: Lichens, mosses, grasses, herbs, berries and leaves

Predators: Arctic wolves, polar bears, brown bears and humans. Calves may fall prey to golden eagles.

Life Span: 4-15 years in the wild; Up to 20 years in zoos

Reproduction: Reindeer are ready to mate between 17 and 41 months old and breed in August-November when males are in rut. Males compete for restricted access to a group of 5-15 females. In early spring, after an 8-month gestation, females generally deliver a single calf (occasionally twins). Calves graze after one month but also continue to nurse for about 6 months.

Behavior: Reindeer are social, living year-round in herds of 10-1,000 individuals. These groups join together to form larger herds of 50,000 to 500,000 individuals that migrate together to summer grazing grounds and then back to wintering grounds. They migrate further than any other land mammal—up to 3,000 miles per year. Both males and females use their antlers for defense and can run as fast as 48 miles per hour to escape a predator.

Conservation

IUCN Status: Least Concern

Reindeer are not currently considered threatened, but the subspecies woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), native to Idaho, Washington, and British Columbia, is listed as Endangered under the United States Endangered Species Act. Woodland caribou have lost much of their habitat and are hunted in some places.

Did you know?

  • As reindeer walk, a clicking noise is produced by a tendon slipping over a bone in the foot.
  • Their footpads expand in summer to get a better grip on the soft, wet tundra, and shrink in winter to expose the rim of the hoof, preventing them from slipping on ice.