Meet Os­car the rein­deer

Dis­ney Cruise Line ex­cur­sion in Helsinki al­lows you to get up close and per­sonal with Fin­land’s na­tional an­i­mal

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - FRONT PAGE - By Steve MacNaull

BE­NEATH a scary rack of antlers, Os­car the rein­deer’s big brown eyes couldn’t be more invit­ing. Feed me more lichen, they urge. Scratch my ears and stroke my ul­tra-suede nose, they seem to say.

My 12-year-old daugh­ter and I oblige, pre­sent­ing a steady stream of lichen, rein­deer’s favourite food and a strange plant that’s best de­scribed as a weird cross of mush­room and moss.

As Os­car nudges our pock­ets search­ing for more grub, we pat his soft face and neck, hardly be­liev­ing we’re this up close and per­sonal with a rein­deer in Fin­land.

Af­ter all, Fin­land is where rein­deer orig­i­nate and the species has se­cured global fame as the fly­ing Santa’s helpers able to pull the toy-laden sleigh around the world in just one night ev­ery Christ­mas.

Cari­bou, Canada’s cousin to the rein­deer, just don’t have the same ca­chet be­cause they don’t have the cool name and aren’t as in­te­grated into Cana­dian cul­ture as they are in Fin­land.

“There are 200,000 semi-do­mes­ti­cated poro (the Scan­di­na­vian word for rein­deer) in Fin­land,” says Suzanna Al­men, the owner of Sea & Moun­tain Ad­ven­tures, the tour com­pany that op­er­ates the White Rein­deer Park.

“We have parks like this where you can in­ter­act. We do sleigh rides in the win­ter and we even put them on leashes and go hik­ing the way you would a dog.”

My daugh­ter and I im­me­di­ately imag­ine adding a rein­deer pet to our fam­ily back at home and show­ing off to the neigh­bours.

We’ve found our­selves amongst the rein­deer af­ter stop­ping in Fin­land’s cap­i­tal of Helsinki on the Dis­ney Magic cruise ship.

The Rein­deer and Na­ture ex­cur­sion im­me­di­ately pulled us in.

Who needs to wan­der another mu­seum or cathe­dral in a Euro­pean cap­i­tal when there are cute crit­ters on the itin­er­ary?

Just a 40-minute bus ride north of Helsinki, we come to Kansal­lispuis Na­tional Park and hike two kilo­me­tres through the spruce-and-pine woods to the rein­deer en­clo­sure.

While Os­car and his tiny herd of four other poro were born in cap­tiv­ity and live be­hind a fence, the park is as nat­u­ral as pos­si­ble.

It’s in the mid­dle of the for­est and fea­tures a big rock out­crop­ping where Os­car can pose ma­jes­ti­cally against a sum­mer sky and ever­green back­ground.

A plat­form for the hu­mans is where the lichen is kept and the rein­deer aren’t shy about com­ing over for some hand-feed­ing and pats.

The an­tic­i­pa­tion amongst our tour group is palat­able as the lichen is handed out, adults and chil­dren alike prance with ex­cite­ment and cam­eras snap.

Os­car, the leader and bull male with

PHOTOS BY STEVE MACNAULL / POST­MEDIA NET­WORK INC.

Os­car the rein­deer meets Grace MacNaull, 12, at White Rein­deer Park north of Helsinki, Fin­land.

Rein­deer in­ter­ac­tion is pre­ceeded by a short hike through Kansal­lispuisto Na­tional Park.

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