Reindeer - Encyclopedia

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REINDEER, in its strict sense the title of a European deer distinguished from all other members of the family Cervidae (see Deer), save those of the same genus, by the presence of antlers in both sexes; but, in the wider sense, including Asiatic and North American deer of the same general type, the latter of which are locally designated caribou. Reindeer, or caribou, constitute the genus Rangifer, and are large clumsily built deer, inhabiting the sub-Arctic and Arctic regions of both hemispheres. As regards their distinctive features, the antlers are of a complex type and situated close to the occipital ridge of the skull, and thus far away from the sockets of the eyes, with the brow-tines in adult males palmated, laterally compressed, deflected towards the middle of the face, and often unsymmetrically developed. Above the brow-tine is developed a second palmated tine, which appears to represent the bez-tine of the red-deer; there is no trez-tine, but some distance above the bez the beam is suddenly bent forward to form an "elbow," on the posterior side of which is usually a short back-tine; above the back-tine the beam is continued for some distance to terminate in a large expansion or palmation. The antlers of females are simple and generally smaller. The muzzle is entirely hairy; the ears and tail are short; and the throat is maned. The coat is unspotted at all ages, with a whitish area in the region of the tail. The main hoofs are short and rounded and the lateral hoofs very large. There is a tarsal, but no metatarsal gland and tuft. In the skull the gland-pit is shallow, and the vacuity of moderate size; the nasal bones are well developed, and much expanded at the upper end. Upper canines are wanting; the cheek-teeth are small and low-crowned, with the third lobe of the last molar in the lower jaw minute. The lateral metacarpal bones are represented only by their lower extremities; the importance of this feature being noticed in the article Deer.

In spite of the existence of a number of more or less well-marked geographical forms, reindeer from all parts of the northern hemisphere present such a marked similarity that it seems preferable to regard them as all belonging to a single widespread species, of which most of the characters will be the same as those of the genus. American naturalists, however, generally regard these as distinct species. The coat is remarkable for its density and compactness; the general colour of the head and upper parts being clove-brown, with more or less white or whitish grey on the under parts and inner surfaces of the limbs, while there is also some white above the hoofs and on the muzzle, and there may be whitish rings round the eyes; there is a white area in the region of the tail, which includes the sides but not the upper surface of the latter; and the tarsal tuft is generally white. The antlers are smooth, and brownish white in colour, but the hoofs jet black. Albino varieties occasionally occur in the wild state. A height of 4 ft. to in. at the shoulder has been recorded in the case of one race.

The wild Scandinavian reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) may be regarded as the typical form of the species. It is a smaller animal than the American woodland race, with antlers approximating to those of the barren-ground race, but less elongated, and with a distinct back-tine in the male, the brow-tines moderately palmated and frequently nearly symmetrical, and the bez-tine not excessively expanded.. Female antlers are generally much smaller than those of males, although occasionally as large, but with much fewer points. The antlers make their appearance at an unusually early age.

Mr Madison Grant considers that American reindeer, or caribou, may be grouped under two types, one represented by the barrenground caribou R. tarandus arcticus, which is a small animal with immense antlers characterized by the length of the beam, and the consequent wide separation of the terminal palmation from the brow-tine; and the other by the woodland-caribou (R. t. caribou), which is a larger animal with shorter and more massive antlers, in which the great terminal expansions are in approximation to the brow-tine owing to the shortness of the beam. Up to 1902 seven other American races had been described, four of which are grouped by Grant with the first and three with the second type. Some of these forms are, however, more or less intermediate between the two main types, as is a pair of antlers from Novaia Zemlia described by the present writer as R. t. pearsoni. The Scandinavian reindeer is identified by Mr Grant with the barren-ground type.

Reindeer are domesticated by the Lapps and other nationalities of northern Europe and Asia, to whom these animals are all-important. Domesticated reindeer have also been introduced into Alaska.

See Madison Grant, "The Caribou," 7th Annual Report, New York Zoological Society (1902); J. G. Millais, Newfoundland and its Untrodden Ways (1908). (R. L.*)

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