Wildlife

More Than 200 Reindeer Found Dead from Starvation in Norway

Researchers recently found more than 200 dead reindeer on the island of Svalbard in Norway; the animals starved to death due to climate change, which is disrupting their access to the plants that they typically eat.

Climate change is bringing warmer temperatures to Svalbard, which means more precipitation. And heavy rainfall in December is thought to be responsible for the unusually high number of reindeer deaths.

After the December rain hit the ground, the precipitation froze, creating “tundra ice caps,” a thick layer of ice that prevented reindeer from reaching vegetation in their usual winter grazing pastures. This forced the animals to dig pits in shoreline snow to find seaweed and kelp, which are less nutritious than the reindeer’s usual fare.

With their pastures locked in ice, the reindeer also have to travel farther to find food. And when there is little to eat, the youngest and oldest animals are usually the first to die.

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Global Warming

Reindeer are eating seaweed to survive climate change

As the planet warms due to climate change, the Arctic winters are seeing longer open water spells and less sea ice. It also now rains more often than snow during this period, something that is directly affecting wildlife like the Svalbard reindeer.

Named after the group of Norwegian islands they’ve lived on for 5,000 years, these 20,000–plus reindeer are now eating seaweed to survive the increasingly warm winters. According to researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Centre for Biodiversity Dynamic, the reindeer are turning to seaweed because the plants they normally eat are becoming harder to get to.

More rain is now falling instead of snow, which causes the snow on the ground to freeze over (also known as “icing”), burying the tundra vegetation under thick ice.

Kelp isn’t as nutritious as the tundra plants the reindeer normally eat. It also seems to be giving the reindeer diarrhea, probably from the salt content. Currently, seaweed is being more or less used as an emergency ration, with the reindeer turning to it only during spells of severe icing. According to the study, the kelp-eating has been happening for over 10 years.

It’s not just the seaweed diet that poses a problem. Unlike the caribou in Alaska, Svalbard reindeer don’t have to live in fear of predators such as wolves or bears. Now, as they spend more time on the shoreline looking for seaweed to eat, they’re left open to attacks from hungry polar bears who can’t find seals to eat, thanks in large part to less sea ice.

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Wildlife

Reindeer Cyclones Are Real

Vikings hunting reindeer in Norway were once confounded by “reindeer cyclones”; a threatened herd would literally run circles around the fierce hunters, making it nearly impossible to target a single animal.

Faced with this spinning reindeer stampede, any predator — wolf, bear or human — would have a very tough time targeting and overpowering a single reindeer, making this a formidable defense strategy.

 

Wildlife

Climate change strands sea turtles on Cape Cod shores

At the New England Aquarium’s sea turtle hospital in a repurposed shipyard building south of Boston, the casualties of climate change swim in tanks as they recover after being pulled stunned from the beach.

Every year, as autumn turns to winter and ocean temperatures off Massachusetts drop below 10C (50F), dead, dying and stricken sea turtles wash up on the shores of Cape Cod as those shelled reptiles that have failed to migrate south start to die in the chilly waters.

In the 1980s, the number of sea turtles stranded on the shores of Cape Cod every year averaged in the dozens. That average went up through the 1990s and 2000s, but over the past decade it has risen dramatically: 2014 saw more than 1,200 turtles make landfall. This year, more than 790 sea turtles have washed up on Cape Cod so far. Some 720 of those are Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles, a critically endangered species that nests on the shores of the much warmer Gulf of Mexico.

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Reindeer now smaller and lighter due to climate change

Reindeer herders in Finnish Lapland are concerned their prized animals are getting smaller because of climate change.

Finland’s reindeer population reaches 200,000 in the wintertime with around 1,500 herders relying on them for their livelihood, breeding Santa’s favourite animal for its meat, milk and fur. They are also a major tourist attraction with 300,000 people visiting the area annually for sleigh rides.

But climate change in the region — mean temperatures in Lapland have increased by 1.5 degrees Celsius over the past 150 years — make it harder for reindeer to graze on their food as warmer winters mean more rain. Reindeer can’t dig the lichen from the ground through the ice.

Research conducted over 20 years on Norway’s Svalbard archipelago found that although reindeer numbers had doubled, their size and weight had decreased — mostly due to greater competition for food. The survey, released in 2016 by the James Hutton Institute, found that adult reindeers born in 1994 weighed 55kg while those born in 2012, weighed 48kg.

Meanwhile, the number of caribous or wild reindeer in the Arctic region has decreased by more than 50% since the mid-1980s, according to a report released earlier this month by the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. The study found that “climate indicators accounted for 54% of the variability in vital rates.”

Wildlife

Heat Refugees

Temperatures have soared so high in Norway’s Arctic region this summer that reindeer are taking shelter from the heat in traffic tunnels and in other shaded places.

The Norwegian Public Roads Administration took the unusual measure of urging motorists to be on the lookout for the tundra grazers after at least 44 traffic collisions with reindeer and sheep occurred during July.

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Lost Wilderness

Only 13 percent of the world’s oceans remain untouched by such human influences as shipping, pollution and fishing, according to an international team of researchers.

Writing in the journal Current Biology, they determined that the areas remaining “mostly free of human disturbance” are now almost entirely in the Arctic and Antarctic, and around some isolated Pacific islands.

Global Warming

Climate change in Lapland

Environmental changes in the far north are having disastrous effects on the region’s indigenous people and tourism industry.

Besides being the name of Swedish and Finnish provinces, Lapland is the English name for a region largely above the Arctic Circle that stretches across the north of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia.

Research has revealed the disproportionate impact of climate change in the Arctic, where temperatures are currently rising at double the rate of the global average.

The far north is bearing the brunt of global warming, and, as much of Lapland’s population relies on its polar climate for their livelihoods, the effects are starting to be felt.

The wider region is the ancient home of the indigenous Sami people, who refer to it as Sapmi. Owing to its remote location and freezing temperatures, much of Lapland remains relatively pristine wilderness, and it is this wilderness that provides the Sami with space to practise their ancient tradition of reindeer herding.

The reindeer herders have become acutely aware of the impact climate change is having on their animals.

Unpredictable weather patterns and specifically rain replacing snow during the coldest months lead to crusts of ice forming on the ground, where normally there would be a soft layer of snow.

Reindeer, which typically feed by digging into the snow and grazing on lichen, are unable to either smell food under the ice or dig to access it. You can have herds starving to death just because they didn’t dig for food.

The role that reindeer have in shaping everything from the Sami language to their handcrafting traditions, which rely on products like reindeer skin and antlers. It’s an entire culture that would disappear with the reindeer.

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Wildlife

Ant Supercolony Threat

A species of ant living in ancient forests of Ethiopia has begun exhibiting signs of supercolony formation, a development experts say could lead to the insects invading other parts of the world.

Supercolony formation is rare in ants, but Ethiopia’s Lepisiota canescens have formed one colony that stretches for 24 miles, according to researchers with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. They warn the ants could hitch a ride in plant material or even in the luggage of tourists to wind up ravaging the ecology of other parts of the world.

“All it takes is one pregnant queen,” said researcher D. Magdalena Sorger. “That’s how fire ants started!”

Shrinking Reindeer

While Santa now has a greater number of reindeer to choose from for his Christmas Eve travels, with populations of the animals having increased over the past two decades, the average weight of the iconic grazers is declining under the influence of climate change.

Scientists from Scotland’s James Hutton Institute found that the weight of adult reindeer in Norway’s Svalbard Arctic archipelago dropped by 12 percent since 1994.

Warmer winters are bringing more rainfall, which falls on snow and freezes so thick that the reindeer can’t reach their main winter diet of lichen on the ground below.

Wildlife

Reindeer Cull in Siberia

The rise of anthrax from the permafrost this summer in Siberia, plus the risk of overgrazing has prompted officials on the Yamal Peninsula of Siberia to plan a mass cull of 250,000 reindeer by years end, according to a Siberian Times report.

Over the summer some 2400 reindeer died from the bacterial infection, anthrax, in three separate outbreaks which is believed due to an infected animal from decades ago that was thawed during the warmer temperatures this year in Siberia. The anthrax outbreak also affected dozens of nomads in the region and killed one young boy.

The government is not only concerned about the spread of disease, but they also state that the 730,000 reindeer population is too much to be sustainable.

Wildlife

Reindeer Cull in Serbia

Thousands of reindeer won’t get to see in Christmas this year after officials demanded a huge slaughter of a quarter of a million festive deer. Serbian officials have demanded a huge cull of a 250,000 reindeer by Christmas over the risk of an anthrax outbreak.

Currently 730,000 animals are being kept in the Yamal Peninsula and the rest of the Yamalo-Nenets region. But numbers are “unsustainable” according to officials, who have claimed the vast amount could risk disease spreading and chronic overgrazing.

This year’s cull, however, comes after reindeer herds suffered from an outbreak of the deadly disease anthrax this summer. The disease killed 2,349 deer and a young boy during the hot summer weather in three spirit outbreaks.

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Anthrax Found in Texas Deer, USA

Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) officials confirmed Anthrax in white-tailed deer in Kinney County on September 16, 2016. The affected premises is located approximately 12 miles east of Brackettville. The premises has been quarantined and TAHC rules require proper disposal of affected carcasses and vaccination of livestock on the premises prior to release of the quarantine.

Wildlife

Reindeer struck by Lightning, Norway

More than 300 reindeer were killed by lightning during a storm in Norway on Friday.

On Sunday, the Norwegian Environment Agency released photos of reindeer bodies strewn across the Hardangervidda mountain plateau. According to the agency, 323 animals will killed during the lightning storm. Agency spokesman Kjartan Knutsen told AP that reindeer often huddle together during bad weather, which is likely why so many were killed during the storm.

Some 10,000 reindeer migrate to the area each year, according to Norwegian Environmental Agency.

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Wildlife

North Pole’s Reindeer Population Plummets

Reindeer populations worldwide are decreasing, according to the authors of a new study who hope that measures soon will be taken to save the majestic and iconic winter holiday animals.

Strengthening reindeer populations would have far reaching effects, according to the study, published in the Journal for Nature Conservation. Ecosystems, local economies and even climate change are just some of the matters that could be impacted, and not just in the northernmost polar region.

There are two subspecies of reindeer in the world: tundra reindeer and woodland reindeer. Some are wild or feral, while others are considered to be “semi-domesticated.” The various types, also known as caribou, appear to be experiencing population decreases.

The researchers, however, believe that at least six factors are causing the reindeer population to decline.

The first is inbreeding. Since reindeer populations here and in other locations are low, there is a greater risk for genetic deterioration. The second factor is poaching, often for the very same antlers that grab our attention on holiday cards. The third are natural predators. As the scientists mention, “Bears, wolves and lynx are the three main predators of reindeer, and may kill as many as a third of reindeer calves each year.

Lack of herders and breeders, climate change, and changes to the tourism industry round out the list. To attract more tourists, herders have been moving closer to where people tend to congregate, putting reindeer at risk from traffic, the aforementioned poaching and other problems.

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