SunSpecial: Deer, Me   Leave a comment

As the Holiday season is now upon us, this week we interview one of the actual North Pole reindeer that are so important in many holiday traditions. Due to privacy agreements, we can’t actually mention who this reindeer is or how we were able to contact him, but he does let us in on quite a bit about reindeer which, probably all of us, know very little:

R: Happy Holidays! Or as all us North Pole (NP) Reindeer say, ‘Hoofy Holidays’. But that’s more an ungulate thing. I’m Rud…. uh, RANDOLPH, one of the reindeer who work at the NP and I’m happy to take this opportunity to answer some of your reindeer and NP questions.

Q: Well, Randolph, we appreciate this opportunity. First, can you tell us what’s the difference between Reindeer, and Caribou (Rangifer tarandus)? Although both types live thousands of miles apart, they seem to be very similar.

R: That’s a great question and one I’m happy to settle. We ARE both the same! Our ancestors go back millions of years, to the period humans call the Pleistocene, the time of the wooly mammoth and sabre-tooth tiger (We’re really glad those tigers are gone). Much of the world was in an Ice Age then, but as the weather warmed reindeer and other cold-weather animals moved north until now almost all reindeer and caribou live within the Arctic and Subarctic regions of North America – where we are called caribou – and Europe, where we are known as reindeer. I don’t know why, I think it’s a man thing.

Q: So if all reindeer – or caribou… – Which do you prefer?

R: Oh, reindeer is fine, thank you.

Q: …if all live in polar regions, doesn’t that make for a very cold and difficult life?

R: You might say reindeer are the coolest animals around, because we can do just fine in weather as cold as seventy degrees below zero, or more! Our entire body – except our nose – is covered with a very dense, and I think, very attractive coat made of wooly underfur surrounded by hollow guard hairs that help retain heat. Also our large, broad hooves help us walk and keep balance on snow and ice.

Q: Since you brought it up, isn’t your nose a little…red, for a reindeer?

R: Seasonal allergies. Next question?

Q: We’ve read that usually thousands of reindeer travel and live together, sometimes migrating long distances every year. How large is your herd at the North Pole?

R: Our NP group is fairly small, for reindeer herds. There’s just the core team of nine, with a few substitutes, and some coaches and support deer. We like to keep things lean and nimble. Outside the workplace, some caribou herds number from the tens into the hundreds of thousands, and every season they do migrate hundreds of miles, following the growth of new plants and to keep calves and fawns safe. But other groups – usually the Eurasian reindeer that live in more forested environments – live in small groups and migrate only within short ranges, if at all. Some caribou in North America live on islands, and of course they don’t migrate. Reindeer can swim, but we draw the line at trying to set any long distance aquatic records. And here’s a fun fact: Not all the NP reindeer team are the same members from year to year! To give everyone a chance, sometimes experienced deer step off, often to become coaches or mentors, and allow new recruits in from outside herds. It’s a great honor to be on the NP team, and tradition to keep the same names from team member to member. So the ‘Donder’ of today, might not be the ‘Donder’ that visited your neighborhood last year!

Q: Wow, we didn’t know that! How are new team members selected? Do they need to have special talents or skills?

R: Actually, any deer who’s interested in considered, there are no special requirements and everyone is welcome. Any applicant has to have a great attitude; be a team player but still able to think on his or her hooves; and be able to pull a sleigh. As most adult male reindeer weigh about 400 pounds; and most females around half that, there’s hardly any reindeer who isn’t able to pull a heavy load so that’s not been an issue. Of course years ago things were a bit different, and if you weren’t part of the ‘in group’, or were ‘peculiar’ in any way, the other deer thought you might not fit in, and it was difficult. Those guys didn’t play any games. But now that’s changed and we all appreciate the uniqueness and special qualities of every individual.

Q: You mentioned herds can travel in search of plants; what do reindeer eat? If we want to leave out cookies and milk for Santa, what food should we leave for the reindeer?

R: Excellent question! When we’re not working, we all love Lichen! That’s both fungus and algae that grow together, so the two make a tasty salad.

Q: We have to say, fungus and algae doesn’t sound too appetizing.

R: Well it’s actually quite good. Some men call it reindeer moss. It’s funny what men name things. But in the far north, not many plants grow. Reindeer and caribou, like every member of the deer family, are herbivores and we have to eat the plants as we find them. When we can, we eat grasses and shrubs and flowering plants and sometimes mushrooms and the best of all, BERRIES!, but for most reindeer those are few and far between. The NP team is on a special diet of hay and oats and vegetables with a little fruit for dessert. Also some special ingredients that I can’t mention, to keep us strong and for our…special abilities. We’re actually quite spoiled when it comes to food, but we like to think we earn it. If you want to leave us a treat, just a carrot or few slices of apple will do, but we really don’t need anything as we always have a good dinner and snacks when we return. And speaking of snacks, please take it easy on those cookies and sweets some of you leave out for Santa. He really doesn’t need all that, and it’s just more we have to pull.

Q: Well, we know you have to get back to work. Thank you for your time and all the great answers. Maybe after the holidays, you can talk with us some more?

R: Oh sure, I’m always happy to share. And if any of your readers have questions, send them in and I’ll do my best to reply.

Q: Oh, one last thing – do you have a photo of yourself we can post for people to see?

R: I can’t really share anything too specific, but Santa did have something prepared in case anyone asks. Let’s just say it’s a good representation of all the reindeer, over the years, who have served, and are serving today. Happy Holidays to all, and may your sleigh-load be light!

Reindeer_Wiki_Rangifer_tarandus AUTOGPH

Posted December 21, 2014 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SunSpecial

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