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Reindeers in Iceland:  Majestic Creatures

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All you need to know about Reindeers (Rangifer Tarandus) in Iceland, where these captivating animals roam freely amidst breathtaking landscapes. As the only cervid species in which both sexes grow antlers, reindeers are a truly remarkable species. They are widely distributed across the northern hemisphere, with populations in Russia, North America, Canada, Alaska, Norway, Northern Sweden, Northern Finland, Svalbard, and Iceland.

History of Reindeers in Iceland

Reindeers were initially imported to Iceland in the 18th century for experimental purposes, with the aim of establishing a stock that could be utilized in Icelandic agriculture, similar to their counterparts in Lapland. Between 1771 and 1787, four attempts were made to introduce reindeers from Northern Norway to Iceland. Unfortunately, the harsh Icelandic climate, severe winters, and limited food sources posed significant challenges for the reindeers, resulting in a high mortality rate. In fact, by 1939, it was believed that reindeers were on the brink of extinction in Iceland.

However, in a stroke of fortune, around 100 reindeers were discovered in East Iceland, and it is believed that the current population stems from their descendants. Over the years, the reindeer population has grown rapidly, and today, during the summer months, approximately 6,000 to 7,000 reindeers can be found exclusively in the eastern part of the country, specifically east of Jökulsá á Fjöllum river and north of Vatnajökull glacier.

Where to Spot Reindeers?

For those eager to witness these creatures in their natural habitat, we recommend heading to the higher ground around mountain Snæfell in East Iceland during the summer months. However, the best time to observe reindeers is during winter when the herds venture down to the lowlands in search of food. You may even be fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of them near the town of Vopnafjörður or as far south as the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.

Size and Characteristics

Adult male reindeers in Iceland typically weigh around 90 kilograms, while females weigh approximately 40 kilograms. Their coloration is well-suited to their environment, with gray fur on their head, back, and legs, and white fur on their bellies. The entire body of a reindeer is covered in fur, which serves as its primary insulation, enabling it to regulate its core body temperature in accordance with the surrounding conditions. Remarkably, reindeers can maintain a stable body temperature without increasing their metabolism, even in temperatures as low as -40°C.

Diet and Feeding Habits

Reindeers have a diverse diet, consuming various plants, with lichen being their preferred food. Despite occasional complaints of overgrazing, reindeers have a lesser impact on pastures compared to sheep. During the winter months, when food sources are limited, reindeers adapt and forage for whatever vegetation they can find beneath the snow.


Hunting and Conservation

In Iceland, all wild mammals (excluding mink, mice, and rats) are protected in their natural habitats under the provisions of Law No. 64/1994, which focuses on the protection, conservation, and hunting of wild birds and mammals. However, reindeers have always received greater protection than other mammals in Iceland. While hunting reindeers is permitted, a specific hunting quota is determined annually for each hunting area, based on the population of each gender. Approximately 1,200 reindeers are randomly allocated to applicants, both locally and internationally, each year.

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