How Abundant Are Reindeer in the Arctic?

This time of year, stories abound on the subject of Santa and his magical team of reindeer. In actual fact, however, the plight of real-life reindeer (known as caribou in North America) is just now coming to light. Reindeer and caribou are members of the Rangifer genus, and both call the harsh environments of the Arctic and sub-Arctic home. Their numbers have been declining since the mid-1990s, according to the 2018 Arctic Report Card -- down 56 percent from an estimated of 4.7 million animals to about 2.1 million today. Some herds that are being monitored have dwindled by around 90 percent over the course of just two decades.

Not all fun and reindeer games:

  • Although it is typical for reindeer herds to experience "boom and bust" cycles, the current population decline is thought to be different. Five herds living in the Alaska-Canada region have experienced such drastic declines that they are not expected to recover.
  • There are a number of reasons why reindeer and caribou populations can decline -- from parasites, diseases, predation, and hunting to loss of food sources. Climate change has played a role in all of these causes.
  • Reindeer and caribou belong to the same species, but they are different in certain ways. Caribou are large elk-like animals found in North America and Greenland. Reindeer are slightly smaller -- and were domesticated in Eurasia 2,000 years ago.
More Info: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Discussion Comments


Up, down, down, up. We should be thankful we are not talking about herds of velociraptors! Onward Blitzen!

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