Reindeers in Iceland
Reindeers (Rangifer Tarandus) is a specie of deer and the only cervid species in which both sexes grow antlers. Reindeers can be found widely in the northern hemisphere and are exceptionally well adapted to cold and snow throughout the winter. They can be found in Russia, North America, Canada, Alaska, Norway, Northern Sweden, Northern Finland, Svalbard and Iceland.
Reindeers were imported to Iceland for experimental purposes in the 18th century, the purpose was to build up a stock for the Icelandic agriculture to use in the same way as in Lapland. In the years 1771-1787 four attempts were made to import reindeers to Iceland from Northern Norway. The animals were released in Vestmannaeyjar island, Reykjanes peninsula, Vaðlaheiði in Eyjafjörður fjord and for the last time in Vopnafjörður fjord in East Iceland. Cold weather, harsh winter and limited food supply made it difficult for the reindeers in Iceland and most of them died. In the year 1939 it was believed that the reindeers were almost extinct in Iceland, but after searching for a while around 100 reindeers were found in East Iceland, it is believed that the current stock is their descendants. In the following years the stock grew rapidly and today around 6000-7000 reindeers can be found during the summer in Iceland but only in the eastern part of the country, east of Jökulsá á Fjöllum river and north of Vatnajökull glacier.
Where to see reindeers in Iceland
Reindeers in Iceland usually stay in the higher ground, around mountain Snæfell in east Iceland during the summer months. Best time to see the reindeers is in winter time, that is when the herds head down to the lowland searching for food. They can sometimes be seen around the town Vopnafjörður and as far south as the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.
Size and Characteristic
An adult male reindeer in Iceland weights on average around 90 kilograms and the female around 40 kilograms. The color of the reindeer fits well with the environment, they are gray on the head, back and legs but white on the belly. Their whole body is furry and their fur is the primary insulation factor that allows them to adjust their core body temperature according to their environment. Reindeer can keep an even body temperature without increasing their metabolism up to -40°C
Reindeers eat many types of plants and their favorite food is lichen. For many years Icelanders have complained that the reindeers are over grazing but they actually have less impact on the pasture than sheeps do. During the winter the reindeers eat whatever is the easiest to find under the snow.
Hunting and protection
All wild mammals in Iceland, apart from mink, mice and rats are protected in their natural environment according to law no. 64/1994 about protection, conservation and hunting of wild birds and mammals. However the reindeers have always enjoyed more protection than other mammals in Iceland. It is allowed to hunt reindeer in Iceland but a special hunting quota is issued annually and is estimated for each hunting area, based on the number of animals of each gender. Every year around 1200 animals are randomly issued to applicants, local and international. The environment agency of Iceland takes care of hunting management and issuing hunting licenses.