More Than 200 Reindeer Found Dead in Norway, Starved by Climate Change

Åshild Ønvik Pedersen, a terrestrial ecologist with the biodiversity system of the Norwegian Polar Institute, found this reindeer near the Svalbard Airport, Longyear in the summer season of 2017.

Credit: Elin Vinje Jenssen/Norsk Polarinstitutt

Scientist just 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 interrupting their access to the plants that they generally consume.

Every year, ecologists with the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) study reindeer populations in Svalbard, an island chain of glaciers and frozen tundra that lies in between Norway and the North Pole.

The findings from the researchers’ 10-week examination were grim: Reindeer population numbers were down, and the private animals were much thinner than they must have been. And numerous reindeer carcasses revealed indications of hunger, Norway’s nationwide news outlet, NRK, reported on July 27. [6 Surprising Facts About Reindeer]

“It’s scary to find so many dead animals,” Åshild Ønvik Pedersen, an NPI terrestrial ecologist, informed NRK. Reindeer in Svalbard are a subspecies, Rangifer tarandus platyrhynchus, and they are short-legged, with endearingly little, rounded heads. Males are somewhat bigger than women, determining about 5 feet (1.6 meters) long and weighing as much as 198 pounds. (90 kgs), according to NPI.

Climate change is bringing warmer temperature levels to Svalbard, which suggests more rainfall. And heavy rains in December is believed to be accountable for the uncommonly high variety of reindeer deaths, the scientists composed on May 28 on the NPI site.

After the December rain struck the ground, the rainfall froze, producing “tundra ice caps,” a thick layer of ice that avoided reindeer from reaching greenery in their normal winter season grazing pastures. This required the animals to dig pits in coastline snow to discover seaweed and kelp, which are less healthy than the reindeer’s normal fare.

NPI ecologists Hamish Burnett and Mads Forchhammer examine reindeer remains found in June.

NPI ecologists Hamish Burnett and Mads Forchhammer analyze reindeer stays found in June.

Credit: Siri Uldal/Norsk Polarinstitutt

The researchers likewise observed reindeer grazing on cliffs, which the animals hardly ever do throughout winter seasons when food is more numerous. Rocky, mountainous areas on Svalbard do not have much plant life, and this “mountain goat strategy” is dangerous for the reindeer, since the cliffs are really high. However throughout lean years, about 50% of the reindeer reach elevations of almost 1,000 feet (300 m) in a desperate look for food, the scientists reported.

With their pastures locked in ice, the reindeer likewise need to take a trip further to discover food. And when there is little to consume, the youngest and earliest animals are generally the very first to pass away, Pedersen informed NRK.

“Some of the mortality is natural because there were so many calves last year,” she stated. “But the large number we see now is due to heavy rainfall, which is due to global warming.”

Initially released on Live Science.

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