Where Do Reindeer Live?

Written by Jennifer Gaeng
Published: December 7, 2021
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Female Reindeer Have Antlers
Female Reindeer Have Antlers.

Reindeer, or caribou, are members of the deer family, Cervidae. Deer, elk, moose, and wapiti are also members of this family. The distinction between reindeer and caribou mostly depends on where they live. Typically, we refer to Eurasian populations as reindeer and most North American populations as caribou. However, we use the term “reindeer” to describe domesticated caribou, including those in North America.

Reindeer antlers are the largest and heaviest of all living deer species. Unlike other deer species, female reindeer can grow antlers. Male antlers can reach fifty-one inches, while female antlers can reach twenty inches. Yet, you might be asking yourself just where do reindeer live. We’ll ding into whether reindeers really share a North Pole home with Santa Claus and which countries you can find them in!

Are Reindeer In the North Pole?

Christmas Reindeer
According to traditional festive legend in some parts of the world, Santa Claus’s reindeer are said to pull a sleigh through the night sky to help Santa Claus deliver gifts to children on Christmas Eve.

iStock.com/Vladimir Melnikov

Reindeer don’t live at the North Pole, despite what you may have heard in folklore. A few Arctic caribou can be discovered in the tundra, however. Formed by the coniferous taiga woods of the Arctic, the Arctic tundra encircles the North Pole. It spans from Alaska to Canada to Russia to Greenland to Iceland. Winters in this area are long and dry, with months of complete darkness and severely low temperatures.

But reindeer, or caribou, populations in northern lands closest to the North Pole have been falling rapidly. Reindeer and caribou herds have shrunk by 56% since the mid-1990s. Reindeer affect not only the landscape but also those who depend on it. The herds have been diminishing for decades because of hunting, sickness, food shortages, and climate change.

Where Do Reindeer Live?

Caribou Migration
Reindeer live in the Northern Hemisphere in tundra and boreal forests.

doliux/Shutterstock.com

Reindeer live in the far northern regions of Europe, North America, and Asia. They enjoy colder climates like tundra and boreal forests. We can find them in northern countries, which include:

  • Canada
  • Greenland
  • Norway
  • Russia
  • Alaska

Reindeer are drawn to regions with a harsh topography and long, cold winters. There’s no need to be alarmed, though! They were designed to survive the cold. There is a thick layer of hair covering their entire bodies down to their feet!

Reindeer rarely live below the 50th parallel (most of the US and Canadian border is the 49th parallel). In addition, there are no reindeer in the Southern Hemisphere. Reindeers and penguins have never crossed paths in nature, although they do have to face Arctic predators like polar bears.

Can Reindeer Live Anywhere In the World?

Reindeer Antlers
Male Caribou with a beautiful head of antlers on the fall tundra above the Toklat River, Alaska Range.

Jeff McGraw/Shutterstock.com

Although reindeer are native to the arctic, they can live in all kinds of climates! For example, the Cairngorms Mountains in Scotland’s far north are home to the UK’s only wild reindeer herd. The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre in Aviemore is an excellent site to see the herd.

A herd of reindeer (caribou) and a herd of muskoxen share the same territory at Alaska’s Large Animal Research Station. The year-round facility opened in 1976 as part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. And, in the Swedish Lapland highlands by the Torne, a Sami couple has been taming and herding reindeer for 30 years. Reindeer frequently roam the grounds.

Examples like these are plentiful. Over 2.5 million domesticated reindeer are currently kept in nine countries, and over 100,000 people are employed in their care!

Where Are Reindeer in America?

Female Reindeer Have Antlers
A pair of young female reindeer stand in front of a beautiful glacial background. Watson Lake, Yukon, Canada. In young reindeer, the antlers are smaller, but they grow bigger each year.

Reindeer can be found in the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut, as well as in the boreal forest and the Canadian Rockies in North America. If you want to see domesticated reindeer in the U.S., there are several ranches and farms where you can observe domesticated reindeer throughout the holiday season.

Ranches can be found across the United States, from Washington to Utah and Michigan. Reindeer can be found in some zoos during certain times of the year. It’s always a good idea to perform some preliminary research. Google “reindeer farms near me” to find out if any exist in your area. To find reindeer in the wild, your best bet is in Alaska. While some reindeer in the rockies may extend southward into Northern Idaho and Montana, reindeer are commonly found across Alaska.

Are Reindeer Going Extinct?

12 Animals of Christmas From Around the World - reindeer
A Reindeer mama and her baby

The global reindeer population is estimated at five million, including 900,000 caribou in Alaska. Predation and sickness seem to determine reindeer herd size presently. Overhunting has historically diminished some reindeer populations. Poaching persists in Russia despite stringent anti-hunting legislation. Logging and winter sports may disturb the reindeer habitat in Finland. For some populations, hybridization with domesticated reindeer is an issue.

White-tailed deer are moving into reindeer habitats as Arctic temperatures rise. These deer are infected with a worm infection that kills moose and reindeer. Insect activity increases when the weather warms up. Insects can make it difficult for reindeer to gain the weight they need to survive the winter.

The tundra is changing as well. A few examples include expanding oil exploration, industrial expansion, and a rise in aviation and snowmobile noise. Since humans and machinery have been around, reindeer have been able to adapt. But reindeer herds’ demands will continue to be an ongoing concern as humanity continues to develop the Arctic.

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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.