Reindeer at Risk
Why are reindeer herds shrinking?
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer saves the day in the popular holiday song. But now it’s reindeer that need saving. Over the past 30 years, their numbers in many areas have dropped by more than half. Many scientists say that habitat loss and rising temperatures are to blame.
Reindeer roam the icy tundra and snowy forests of the Arctic region. But their habitats are being taken over by people. Logging, mining, and the building of roads have driven many herds out of areas in the U.S., Canada, and Russia.
To make matters worse, the Arctic is slowly heating up. The region now often gets freezing rain instead of snow. That makes it harder for reindeer to get their food. Their winter diet is lichen (LYE-ken), a tiny plantlike form of life . It grows on rocks and in soil. Freezing rain covers lichen with ice that is too thick for reindeer to dig through. If they can’t reach their food, they can starve.
That’s bad news for native people in the region too. They rely on reindeer for food, clothing, and transportation.
Reindeer also play a key role in the Arctic food chain. Fewer reindeer can mean less food for predators, such as wolves.
Government leaders in the U.S. recently took action to help reindeer. They approved a plan to protect parts of Alaska where the animals live.
“Reindeer are a symbol of the North ,” says wildlife expert Justina Ray . “If we take care of them, we’ll be taking care of other Arctic animals too.”This article appeared in the December 3, 2012 issue of Scholastic News Edition 4. For more from Scholastic News, click here.