Iceland is home to some of the most beautiful and magnificent flora and fauna of the world. There are as many as 72 species of birds in the region that breed, nest and feed in Iceland. When it comes to animals, Iceland is home to a species that may not be a native species of the country but are found in thousands. We are talking about the Reindeer. These are the largest wild animals in Iceland and are found in great numbers in the eastern part of the country. The cold climatic conditions of Iceland make it the perfect breeding ground for Reindeer. During the winters, they migrate to the higher grounds to give birth and ensure the safety of calves away from any kind of human contact.
Reindeer are herd animals, they live, graze and breed in herds that can have as many as 100 Reindeer. It is almost impossible to find a lone Reindeer but the size of the herd depends entirely on the weather conditions. Generally, large herds of as many as 100 animals can be spotted during the winter, but during the summer only 4-5 animals come out in the sight.
In this article, we will explore and get to know more about these beautiful animals and their habitat.
An interesting fact about Reindeer in Iceland is that these animals are not native to the country. Reindeer were imported in Iceland during the 18th century as an experiment that was aimed to create stock agriculture in the country. During the years 1771-1787 researchers made four attempts to import Reindeer into Iceland from their native country Norway. These animals were released in four different parts of Iceland, including the Vopnafjörður fjord, a part of East Iceland.
But these attempts looked like complete failure initially as most of the animals died due to harsh weather conditions and limited food supply in the regions of Iceland. By the year 1939, it was assumed that Reindeer are extinct in Iceland, until the day when a herd of as many as 100 Reindeer was spotted in East Iceland. Over the years, this herd reproduced and as of today, there are as many as 6000-7000 Reindeer in Iceland, all of these are believed to be the decedents of those 100.
Where to Spot Reindeers in Iceland?
As we have already mentioned, Reindeer are generally found in higher grounds of Eastern Iceland during summers. So, it is almost impossible for tourists to spot them during the summers. But, during winters, these magnificent animals come down to lower grounds in search of food and can be spotted in the nearby grazing grounds of the town Vopnafjörður. Another important reason for Reindeer to stay in highlands during summers is that it is the time when calves are young and they need a mother’s warmth and extra care. The dependency on mothers and the good health of calves demands an isolated environment, away from human contact. They can also be spotted in the southern region near Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Höfn village. If you are willing to spot Reindeer during your visit to Iceland, then the best time to visit is winters.
How Big Are They?
When it comes to weight, there is a surprising difference between the weight of female and male Reindeer. The average weight of a male Reindeer is almost 90 kilograms, but in the case of females, it comes down to 40 kilograms. The body color and coat of a Reindeer fits perfectly in the environment of Iceland. They have the gray colored head, back, and legs but a long patch of white can be seen on their belly. The furry body ensures insulation from extreme cold weather and helps them to adjust their core body temperature. The heaviness and insulation of the coat can be guessed by the fact that Reindeer can keep their body temperature even and healthy without making any drastic change in their metabolism even in extreme climatic conditions of -40°C. Another important thing about Reindeer is that it is the only type of deer in which antlers are found both in males as well as females. They grow new antlers every year and shed their old horns during November and March.
What do they Eat?
Like every other type of deer, Reindeer are also completely herbivorous. They eat different types of plants and it is known that when it comes to their taste buds, their favorite food is lichen. Over the years, farmers from Iceland have complained that Reindeer are responsible for the overgrazing in the country, but the facts suggest that sheep are the real culprit of this crime. Reindeer are indeed grazing in the grounds of Iceland, but not so much to put it in the bracket of overgrazing.
Reindeer don’t face many difficulties in finding food during summers, but during winters, they eat whatever they get under the snow. Heavy grazing during summers keeps these animals ready for harsh winters. The migration from highlands to lowlands is highly dependent on the availability of food and the good health of calves.
Hunting and Protection of Reindeers
In Iceland, there is a law called law number 64/1994 that proves to be a blessing for not only Reindeer but also other animals like Arctic fox. Only mink, mice, and rats do not come under the umbrella of this law. This law was brought in for the conservation, protection, and to stop the hunting of birds and other mammals of Iceland. But, in comparison to other animals, Reindeer enjoy far more protection from the government authorities. It is allowed to hunt Reindeer, but this kind of hunting demands a special annual quota and license.
This quota depends on the hunting area as well as the gender of the animal. In areas where a lesser number of Reindeer are found, the hunting permission comes with some restrictions. Every year during the hunting season, around 1200 animals are issued to hunters, both national and international. The environment agency of Iceland takes strict care of hunting management and looks after the people who are hunting to ensure that no rules are broken. The hunting season in Iceland is kept very short between the months of July and September in order to keep the numbers short and protect the wildlife.
Making Plans for a Visit
If you are planning to visit Iceland, then make sure you have your plans aligned with the weather to ensure that you get the best sights of both the flora as well as fauna of the country. The extreme climatic conditions of Iceland may sound difficult while researching on a laptop, but visiting this beautiful country is a rejuvenating experience.
Reindeer are one of the major attractions in Iceland, along with Arctic fox, which is also a highly protected and beautiful animal living in extreme highlands. All of these animals can be spotted in Eastern Iceland because the area becomes perfect for their food and survival. The Arctic fox is the only land animal in Iceland that is native to the region, almost every other animal has its origins in a different country.
Visit Iceland for its birds, for its beautiful Reindeer, for fishes in its streams and its Arctic foxes, and the beauty of the place will have an enchanting effect on your life and yourself.