Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Santa's Reindeer Feel the Heat as Numbers Shrink Worldwide

By Tia Ghose, Senior Writer | December 12, 2016 05:11pm ET

SAN FRANCISCO – Santa Claus better stock up on reindeer, because he may have trouble scrounging up replacements in the not-too-distant future, new research suggests.

Reindeer populations in northern Russia are falling, according to a new study. The new findings dovetail with other research showing that reindeer populations are falling in other parts of the Arctic as well.

But Santa's trusty steeds aren't the only iconic wintry beasts facing worldwide declines. Polar bear populations could decline by about one-third over the next 30 or 40 years based on sea ice estimates, another study found. 

And hotter, drier conditions in the western U.S. could mean steep reductions in mountain lion and mule deer populations.

Worldwide changes
For a while now, scientists have documented many changes in the Arctic that suggest trouble is brewing.

"The reindeer population in the world, and caribou, are declining pretty rapidly," study co-author Andrey Petrov, a geographer at the University of Northern Iowa, said here today (Dec. 12) at a news briefing at the annual American Geophysical Union Meeting. "We don't know why it's happening."

To get a better understanding of why, Petrov looked at reindeer populations in the Taimyr Peninsula in Far North Russia. The Taimyr reindeer population, at 600,000 animals, makes up 24 percent of the global reindeer population. The population peaked in 2000 at more than 1 million creatures, after the dismantling of the Soviet management system led to dramatic reductions in hunting. However, since then the population has been falling.

Petrov used satellite views of the region's vegetation, along with the vegetation and the corresponding presence of reindeer. The herds of reindeer are clearly visible in land satellite imagery, which allowed Petrov to map reindeer movement across the Arctic during the winter, their spring calving season and summer. He found that, overall, the reindeer have a strong tendency to return to the same places over and over again.

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