A wild reindeer nearly hunted to extinction back in the 19th and early 20th centuries is showing signs of growth, according to a new study.
The wild Svalbard reindeer, which lives in an archipelago off Norway, was in danger. But after a ban on hunting implemented in 1925, the population has slowly grown. Today, after a survey of reindeer across the islands, scientist Mathilde Le Moullec and her colleagues estimated there were about 22,000 Svalbard reindeer—a population size double that of previous estimations from between 1968-2008.
“At a global level, the abundances of the 12 reindeer subspecies found throughout the Arctic today appear to have declined, and the species has been listed as vulnerable (i.e., about 40% decline over the past 10–30 yr) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature,” the researchers write in the paper published in The Journal of Wildlife Management. “Our study is an example of the opposite trend pattern.”
In order to create a picture of where the reindeers lived before humans arrived at the archipelago in the 16th century, Le Moullec and her team collected reindeer bones and antlers preserved in the Arctic environment and used radiocarbon dating to estimate the age of the remains. Radiocarbon dating helped them get an idea of which areas of the archipelago housed reindeer populations before they were nearly hunted to extinction. The latest estimates demonstrate that Svalbard reindeer now occupy all the land they historically occupied across Svalbard.
“Reindeer have recolonized their ancient grazing areas, based on the information we have from the antlers and bones,” Le Moullec said. “In the areas where they were extirpated, their numbers still have the potential to increase.”