Reason for hope: more reindeer on spitsbergen

Reason for hope: more reindeer on spitsbergen

100 years after humans decimated the reindeer on the spitsbergen archipelago in the north atlantic, the species has largely recovered.

This is the conclusion of a report by the norwegian university of science and technology (NTNU) in trondheim. "Around 1900, the reindeer on svalbard (the norwegian name of the group of islands) were more or less extinct," says biologist mathilde le moullec. At that time, there were only a few thousand animals left.

Having explored the archipelago in four expeditions by fub and boat between 2013 and 2016, she and colleagues estimate the population on spitsbergen at around 22.000 animals. For the project, researchers recorded animal encounters as well as satellite images of vegetation and finds of bones and antlers. The remains provided information about where on the various islands the animals had lived over the centuries and for how long. The oldest find is probably 3600 years old.

With the arrival of man on the icy islands, the animals became sought-after prey. After the dutchman willem barents reported the discovery in 1596, whalers, fishermen and other visitors came to the islands to hunt reindeer. When in spate 19. When coal was found in the nineteenth century, its meat became food for miners.

Only in some isolated areas did small populations remain at that time. It was thanks to them that the population was able to grow again after the norwegian government put the animals under protection in 1925, says le moullec. However, the biologist does not speak of a complete recovery. "In the areas where they have been eradicated, their numbers still have the potential to increase."

There are different figures on the worldwide development of the pension population. According to the environmental organization WWF (world wide fund for nature), the number of wild animals is around 2.8 million. Other sources speak of 3.8 million. In the past 25 years, the number of animals has fallen by 40 percent, says roland gramling of the WWF. The russian taimyr giant herd, for example, still consisted of about one million animals in 2000. In the meantime, it has reached an estimated 380.000 specimens shrunk. One reason is poaching. "There are true reindeer massacres. The antlers are processed into powder and sold as a remedy, especially in china. Tongues are in demand as a delicacy," says gramling.

In addition, climate change is causing more animals to die in warm winters because they cannot find enough food. The snow melts and then freezes into ice, which covers the ground. For large populations, the food is no longer sufficient. On spitsbergen, the average temperature has risen by 5.6 degrees since 1961. Here, researchers have found that reindeer populations thrive more inland than on the coast, where winters are rainier and warmer.

Another problem is that at calving time in the spring, the rivers are more and more often already thawed and the newborn young animals have to swim miles through the icy water, gramling said.

The norwegian researchers stress that the relationship between reindeer populations and climate change should be closely monitored: "given that it has taken about a century for the subspecies to recover from overhunting on svalbard, the adaptive capacity of the reindeer may be too slow to keep up with the pace of future climate change."

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