The New International Encyclopædia/Reindeer
REINDEER (Icel. hreinn, AS. hrān, reindeer, from Lapp reino, pasturage + deer, AS. dēar, Goth. dius, wild beast, animal, Ger. Thier, animal). An Arctic deer (Rangifer tarandus) which has long been domesticated and used as a draught animal and a beast of burden in Northern Europe. The wild race still exists in varying abundance almost everywhere from Northern Scandinavia to Eastern Siberia, wandering to the Arctic coast and throughout Spitzbergen, Nova Zembla, and the Phipps and Parry islands. They are not known much south of Lapland in the west, nor below the northern margin of the great forest region in Siberia, but in the Ural region they wander southward to the borders of Perm. Whether the caribou (q.v.) of Greenland and Canada are to be regarded as merely geographical races of the European form, thus considered as a circumpolar species, is a matter of opinion. European zoölogists generally do so regard it, and assert that the differences between European and American examples are not sufficient to be deemed specific. Merriam and other recent American zoologists think otherwise and set apart no less than six ‘species’ in the New World. Within historic times reindeer lived in the islands north of Scotland, but became extinct there before the twelfth century; they were much more recently numerous throughout Scandinavia. The habits of the American species are outlined under Caribou. Those of the plains and islands of subarctic Europe and Asia wander about the tundras and desolate treeless mountains, making periodical migrations from one feeding-ground to another. In early summer the Spitzbergen herds betake themselves to the grassy valleys of the interior, whence they return in the autumn to the coast to feed upon seaweed. The coming of the winter ice cuts off this resource, compelling them to go into the mountains, where they subsist upon the rock-lichens, which they uncover by shoveling away several feet of snow with their flat horns, or pawing it aside with their feet. The alternate thawing and freezing of spring, by forming a hard crust on the snow, interferes sadly with their welfare, and great numbers sometimes starve at this season. In Siberia, as in North America, migrations in scattered herds regularly take place from the barren coast plains southward to the less inclement region along the borders of the forest area, where food may be obtained. Not much is known of the breeding habits of the wild reindeer except that the fawns are born in the spring.
The reindeer has long been domesticated among the Laplanders and the tribes along the coast of Siberia, and used for drawing sledges and as a riding and burden animal, besides furnishing skins for tents, clothing and harness, flesh and milk for food, and horns and hoofs for various utilities. It has remarkable endurance, strength, and speed in drawing sledges, and without this animal much of Lapland and Siberia could not be permanently inhabited. These qualities led the Government of the United States to endeavor to naturalize reindeer among the Eskimos of the north coast of Alaska, who were in danger of starving through the loss of food and uneconomical habits, following the pursuit of excessive whaling and walrus-hunting by white men off that coast. The experiment was conducted under the direction of the Commissioner of Education and the personal care of the Rev. Sheldon Jackson. Agents procured a small herd of Siberian reindeer which, with Lapp attendants, were landed in Northern Alaska in 1889. The training of Alaskan attendants and drivers was begun, and more herds were annually imported. Up to 1898 550 deer had been brought from Siberia, and the stock with its increase amounted to about 5000 in 1903. Several stations were established where the deer were bred, and where Eskimos were trained in their care and use. The history of the attempt is contained in Jackson's Annual Reports to the Department of the Interior, from 1890 onward.
The wild reindeer is much larger than the domesticated races. It is as large as the stag, but heavier and more clumsy in appearance. It has a dark coat in summer and a lighter one in winter, with a growth of long whitish hair under the neck, while the region about the short goat-like tail and the outlines of the hoofs are nearly white. It constitutes a genus (Rangifer), differing from that of ordinary deer in the important particular that both sexes have horns, although those of the bucks are larger. These antlers are peculiar in their long, slender, unequally branching beams, and especially in the fact that the brow-tines are greatly produced and palmated, and one is usually aborted to allow the other to push forward into a formidable weapon, overhanging the face.
During Pleistocene time the reindeer was more widely distributed over Europe than it is at the present day, for its fossil remains have been found as far as the Alps and the Pyrenees.
Consult: Lydekker, Deer of All Lands (London, 1898); id., Royal Natural History, vol. ii. (London, 1896); Nordenskiöld, Voyage of the Vega (New York, 1881); Boyd Dawkins, Cave Life (London, 1875); and the works of travelers and explorers in the Arctic regions and the countries where reindeer are used. For the American forms, consult: Stone and Cram, American Animals (New York, 1902); Roosevelt, The Deer Family (ib., 1902); Preble, “Biological Investigation of the Hudson Bay Region,” in North American Fauna No. 22 (Department of Agriculture, Washington, 1902); and books cited under Deer.