Svalbard Reindeer. Photo Svalbard Museum

The Svalbard reindeer lives approximately 9 years. The bucks (the males) are a little bigger than the does (the females). In appearance they look a little different from other wild reindeer. They have, for example shorter legs. In winter they have a long thick winter coat, which makes them seem small and fat. The does can only have one calf each year. This is born as the summer starts, at the beginning of June. Usually the calf stays with its mother until winter.


In Svalbard the reindeer do not move in herds, as do the wild reindeer on the mainland. Instead they operate alone or in small groups of 2-6 animals. Since they are quite tame, one can approach very close to a Svalbard reindeer. There are no predators on Svalbard that kill reindeer, but foxes will eat animals that have died of starvation. During the summer they graze almost constantly in order to build up their fat reserves for the winter. A reindeer can put on 10 kg of fat during the summer if food is plentiful. They use up this fat during the winter when it is harder to find food. During some winters the snow can be packed very hard due to the wind. Sometimes it also rains during the winter, and the rain can freeze to an armour plating of ice that makes it impossible for the reindeer to reach the plants. In such winters many reindeer will die. In addition, many of the does will not calve after such a winter. Thus, there are big fluctuations from year to year in how many reindeer one can find at different places in Svalbard.

By Ronny Aanes