Svalbard Reindeer

Saved from the brink of extinction by dedicated recovery programs, these small reindeer have a dramatically variable birth rate

Antarctic Peninsula

Region: Arctic

Destinations: Svalbard

Name: Svalbard Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus platyrhynchus)

Length: 1.5 to 1.6 metres.

Weight: 50 to 90 kg, with males being larger.

Location: Svalbard, Norway.

Conservation status: Least Concern.

Diet: Vegetarian.

Appearance: White with darker colouring along their backs and faces.

How do Svalbard Reindeers feed?

During the winter Svalbard Reindeer forage in areas where snow has less chance to accumulate – mountain slopes, ridgelines, plateaus, and so on. During the summers when access to food is easier they will spend almost all of their time feeding in order to accumulate enough fat to help them survive the next winter season.

Are Svalbard Reindeers social?

Svalbard Reindeers tend to form small groups of about 5 members during the summer feeding season. These smaller groups can gather together during the winter when they are forced closer due to limited feeding grounds.

They are generally curious about people, slowly approaching to check them out, and then deciding if they should run or just go back to feeding.

How fast do Svalbard Reindeer move?

Svalbard Reindeer can reach speeds of up to 80 km at a sprint. However they are generally fairly sedentary and shuffle along as they feed.

What are Svalbard Reindeer birthing rituals like?

Svalbard Reindeer reach sexual maturity around age 3. Breeding season begins in October. Successful males will collect up to ten females to create a harem.

Pregnancy lasts about 7 months with the single calf being born in June. During the nursing period (about 3 months) the calf will go from its initial 3 kg in weight to about 10 kg when they’re weaned.

How long do Svalbard Reindeers live?

Svalbard Reindeer live for an average of 10 years, but some have been noted living as long as 17 years.

How many Svalbard Reindeer are there today?

There are about 10,000 Svalbard Reindeer in total.

Do Svalbard Reindeer have any natural predators?

Svalbard Reindeer have no natural predators. Starvation is the most significant factor that keeps the population in balance.

7 Super Svalbard Reindeer Facts

1. Svalbard Reindeer are the smallest subspecies of reindeer.

2. Svalbard Reindeer’s weight varies considerably between seasons. In spring the average male weight is 65 kg, growing to 90 kg by the time autumn rolls around.

3. Svalbard Reindeer’s fur grows lighter in colour in winter.

4. Males develop their antlers from April through July, shedding the velvet covering in late summer, and they lose the antlers at the beginning of winter. On the other hand females will grow their antlers beginning in June and will keep them for an entire year.

5. They are the only species of reindeer in Svalbard.  

6. Svalbard Reindeer were almost hunted to extinction in the early 1900s but dedicated recovery programs helped the species to repopulate.

7. Birth rates can vary wildly from year to year depending on how hard the winters were in the previous season. Birth rates (the amount of females that get pregnant) can be anywhere from 10% to 90%. 

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