Rein­deer are shrink­ing: warm­ing threat­ens Xmas icon

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH -

If Santa is re­cruit­ing helpers to haul Christmas presents around the world this year he had bet­ter take a few ex­tra, said re­searchers Mon­day who warned that rein­deer are shrink­ing.

Over the past 16 years, the weight of adult rein­deer in Sval­bard in the Nor­we­gian Arc­tic has dropped by 12 per­cent, likely due to global warm­ing, said study find­ings pre­sented to a meet­ing at the Bri­tish Eco­log­i­cal So­ci­ety (BES) in Liver­pool. By the time they reached adult­hood, rein­deer born in 2010 weighed just over 48 kilo­grams (106 pounds), com­pared to 55 kg for those born in 1994.

"Twelve per­cent may not sound very much, but given how im­por­tant body weight is to re­pro­duc­tion and sur­vival, it's po­ten­tially huge," study leader Steve Al­bon of the James Hut­ton In­sti­tute in Scot­land, told AFP.

Pre­vi­ous re­search had shown that when the av­er­age adult weight in April is less than 50kg, the pop­u­la­tion as a whole de­clines, he added. Al­bon and his fel­low re­searchers blame cli­mate change for the shrink­ing rein­deer. Sci­en­tists say land sur­face tem­per­a­tures in the Arc­tic were about 2.8 de­grees Cel­sius (five de­grees Fahren­heit) higher last year than when records be­gan a cen­tury ear­lier.

Warmer win­ters mean more rain, which falls on snow and freezes, the BES ex­plained in a state­ment.

The ice pre­vents rein­deer from get­ting to the lichen which com­prises the bulk of their win­ter diet and for which they usu­ally for­age in the snow. Lichen are com­plex or­gan­isms com­prised of a fun­gus liv­ing in sym­bio­sis with an alga or bac­terium. "The rein­deer starve, abort­ing their calves or giv­ing birth to much lighter young," said the BES. Rein­deer num­bers have in­creased over the past two decades, said the re­search team, so greater com­pe­ti­tion for food likely also con­trib­uted to their smaller size.

This meant there could be more, but smaller rein­deer in the Arc­tic in the decades to come, "pos­si­bly at risk of cat­a­strophic die-offs be­cause of in­creased ice on the ground." The team has tracked Arc­tic rein­deer since 1994, catch­ing, mark­ing and mea­sur­ing 10-mon­thold calves ev­ery win­ter and re­turn­ing the fol­low­ing year to re­cap­ture and note the an­i­mals' size and weight. A study ear­lier this year pointed to 61,000 rein­deer starv­ing to death on the Ya­mal Penin­sula in Siberia in the win­ter of 2013-2014 due to a "rain-on-snow" event as de­scribed in the new re­search. — AFP

DIKAN, Swe­den: A Sami man from the Vil­helmina Norra Sameby, catches a rein­deer dur­ing a gath­er­ing of his rein­deers herd for se­lec­tion and calf la­bel­ing on Oc­to­ber 27, 2016. — AFP

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