The Green Dragon reindeer herd is very popular with visitors to the new Wildlife Zone that opened on 1st August 2018. The reindeer are friendly and very responsive during feeding and training sessions that are part of the daily Animal Encounters Programme at Green Dragon. Not just for Christmas, the reindeer go through seasonal changes which make them really interesting to visitors all year round.
Summer ‘in velvet’
Over the summer both males and females were ‘in velvet’ which means their antlers had been covered in a soft bristly coating, whilst developing during the spring, supplying the growing antler with essential nutrients and oxygen. Towards the end of the summer, the velvet started to wither and fall off, helped by the reindeer rubbing their antlers against trees. This was in preparation for the rutting season (or mating season) when, in the wild, antlers are needed by male reindeer to fight off competition from other males and by female reindeer for protection.
Autumn – The Rutting Season
Reindeer differ from other deer in that the males are called bulls, females are called cows and babies are called calves. This autumn at Green Dragon, the cows have been put with the bull, Rudi, in the rutting paddock until the season is over. The pregnant cows will then return to the main paddock for the duration of their pregnancy which is about 222 days – so reindeer young are expected in May or June next year.
Reindeer are deer species found in the Arctic regions and are well-adapted to living in cold and under rugged conditions, therefore associated with winter and Christmas. At Green Dragon, the reindeer take part in the Farmer Christmas Land Experience and, due to their popularity, are ‘stars of the show’. After Christmas, the reindeer will shed their antlers, which are actually exposed bone similar to human teeth. This is caused by a decrease in testosterone following the rut and is a process that will be repeated every year for the rest of their lives.
In the wild
Reindeer can live in tundra, woodlands and mountains and often have a very large home range, up to 190 square miles. They can migrate huge distances travelling up to three thousand miles in search of the best grazing. Reindeer have a tendon in their feet that makes a loud click when walking, enabling herds to stay together even in zero visibility during a blizzard.
Equipped with their warm and insulating coat – 130 hairs per square inch – reindeer are protected from the extreme cold and their large hooves prevent them from sinking into the snow. Many native Arctic human societies rely on the reindeer for food, clothing and material for shelter. Some scientists believe that reindeer were they first animals to be domesticated thousands of years ago.