Are Reindeer Real? Find Out Here!

Written by Jennifer Gaeng
Published: December 8, 2021
Image Credit iStock.com/Vladimir Melnikov
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Christmas Reindeer
Are Christmas Reindeer Real? Keep reading to find out!

iStock.com/Vladimir Melnikov

Reindeer have long been adored throughout history. In 1823, Charles Dickens made the first mention of Santa’s renowned eight reindeer in a poem. They were each adorned with a name, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen.

In 1939, the success of Robert L. May’s storybook “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and the 1949 Christmas song by the same name resulted in Rudolph being featured as the ninth reindeer in Santa’s infamous story.

We have long associated reindeer with Christmas and winter celebrations, notably in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. Pagan mythology adores reindeer, and their ancient practices became part of Christmas celebrations during the Middle Ages. So, you might be wondering, are reindeer real and what is fantasy vs. reality when it comes to these incredible animals?

Yes, Reindeer Are Real!

Reindeer Antlers
Reindeer are real! Here is one out in the wild…

Yes! Reindeer are real and are classified as mammals. Reindeer and caribou are the same species (Rangifer tarandus). In northern regions of the Northern Hemisphere, this species can be found in abundance. The wild subspecies in North America is known as “caribou.” Wild and tamed reindeer are both known as reindeer in Eurasia.

Reindeer, like Rudolph, have long been loved for their docile and trustworthy natures, as well as their proficiency in a variety of jobs. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a perfect example of a fictitious story reflecting reality!

The species has long been seen as a mystifying northern creature that provides humanity with transportation, shelter, and food. Their antlers were thought to contain something medicinal and nourishing, and they still consider reindeer antler a highly effective natural medicine in many cultures.

The reindeer evolved to signify inventiveness, resourcefulness, and knowledge, as well as safe travel and endurance. In the popular narrative of Father Christmas, reindeer bring people home safely over a bleak winter environment. Domesticated since the Bronze Age, the reindeer has proven to be a great asset.

Can Real Reindeer Fly?

Male reindeer isolated on white background.
Male reindeer.

No. Reindeer are mammals and cannot fly. Squirrels glide on a flap of skin, and bats, the only mammals with actual wings, can fly. Reindeer can, however, move at various speeds, from a slow trot to a rapid gallop, reaching up to 49 mph in short bursts. Lapland locals in Finland used reindeer to drive sleighs or sledges like the ones depicted in the stories of Santa Claus and “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” published in 1837.

Although reindeer can’t fly, a reindeer is a serial leaper. Known for leaping six feet in the air and gliding, they can do so with ease. Reindeer are deer; therefore, the theory of extended leaping makes sense to many whitetail deer hunters in the United States. According to Mark Kayser, an ardent hunter and outdoor writer for Grand View Outdoors, most deer can jump a 6-foot fence, but some can jump as high as eight feet. And famous wildlife photographer and whitetail expert Charles Alsheimer documented a buck being chased by another that cleared a 35-foot gap!

Where Are Reindeer from Originally?

Female Reindeer Have Antlers
A female reindeer with her calf in springtime. Female reindeer also have antlers to protect themselves and their calves in an all-female herd.

Reindeer are originally from Scandinavia and eastern Europe and Greenland. They were believed to have lived in Scotland until the 12th century, when the last reindeer were hunted in Orkney. Southern Idaho had reindeer in the 19th century. Wild reindeer, or caribou, even lived in Nevada, Tennessee, and Alabama in North America and Spain in Europe during the late Pleistocene. They have since vanished from these places, especially in the south. Wild reindeer currently roam Norway, Finland, Siberia, Greenland, Alaska, and Canada.

Some reindeer subspecies are rare, and two are extinct: the Canadian Queen Charlotte Islands caribou and the East Greenlandic Arctic reindeer. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada listed woodland caribou as threatened in 2002. The IUCN lists Rangifer Tarandus as vulnerable.

Reindeer Are Real And Amazing!

Caribou Migration
The Cairngorm reindeer in a beautiful colorful landscape in the autumn of Scotland.

doliux/Shutterstock.com

Reindeer are fascinating animals with a long history of adoration in literature and culture. Much may be learned about them, and some of it may come as a shock to you! For example, Reindeer have antlers on both sexes, unlike most other deer species, where only the males have antlers. Antlers on reindeer are the largest and heaviest among any living deer species, despite their small stature. Male antlers can measure up to fifty-one inches long, while female antlers can measure up to twenty inches long.

When left to their own devices in the wild, reindeer can live for up to 15 years. When they are domesticated, they can survive for up to 20 years. Currently, there are 2.5 million farmed reindeer in nine nations, with 100,000 people caring for them. This is around half of the world’s reindeer population!

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About the Author

A substantial part of my life has been spent as a writer and artist, with great respect to observing nature with an analytical and metaphysical eye. Upon close investigation, the natural world exposes truths far beyond the obvious. For me, the source of all that we are is embodied in our planet; and the process of writing and creating art around this topic is an attempt to communicate its wonders.