Svalbard reindeer in good physical condition
Top image: Despite icy conditions, the Svalbard reindeer seem to manage. Photo: Anja Carlsson.
Despite the harsh winter, the population of Svalbard reindeer seems to be in relatively good condition, at least compared to the catastrophic winter of 2007-08 according to fieldwork observations in February.
12 March 2010
Text: Audun Stien, Norwegian Institute of Nature Research (NINA)
The reindeer project in Colesdalen-Semmeldalen-Reindalen has finished the February fieldwork. The project group, which involves scientists from The Macaulay Institute (Scotland); NINA; Norwegian School of Veterinary Science, University of Oslo, Aberdeen, Lancaster and UNIS, conducts fieldwork three times a year in the Colesdalen – Reindalen area, to document the state of the reindeer population in Nordenskiöld Land.
The weather this winter has been unusual with frequent and long periods of mild weather, with rain and sleet producing a cover of ice on the ground. But even though there is extensive icing in the valleys, the reindeer were found to be in relatively good condition.
Better than the 2007-08 winter
Adult female reindeer were on average 4 kg lighter than last year, but 8 kg heavier than in the catastrophic winter of 2007-08. Moreover, nine out of ten adult females were pregnant, which indicates that the reindeer so far have coped well with the ice conditions.
While the bottom of most valleys is covered with ice, this is not always the case higher up. Accordingly, the reindeer in Colesdalen were mainly found foraging in ice free vegetated areas on the high plateaus surrounding the valley.
The extent of such ice free areas available for forage is likely to determine how well the Svalbard reindeer will manage through the latter part of the winter. However, we can conclude that so far the situation for the reindeer seems to better than what the ice conditions along the main snow scooter tracks out of Longyearbyen suggest.
The February field campaign was the first one for the project this year. The project group will have another field campaign in April and a concluding one in August. After that, we will know how the reindeer in this area fared during this winter which presented such challenging weather conditions.