Milder winters are actually causing lower average weight among the reindeer on an Arctic island.
According to reports, reindeer are shrinking due to climate change, sparking concerns on whether Santa Claus will have to add reinforcements to pull his sleigh across the world on Christmas Eve.
Professor Steve Albon, an ecologist at the James Hutton Institute in Scotland, led a study of reindeer on an Arctic island near the North Pole that discovered the average weight of the reindeer has dropped from 121 pounds back in the 1990s to only 106 pounds today, says an article on Reuters.
Blaming milder-than-usual winters, Albon said the snows are falling more often as mere rainfall, which freezes over the ground, resulting in a covering of the plants and foods that the reindeer rely on to get them through the winter season. This, in turn, leads to some reindeer starving, and consequently, female reindeer giving birth to smaller than normal offspring.
The reindeer may be getting smaller, but the populations are not suffering. Plants are thriving in the warmer summer conditions, and more females are conceiving in the fall, with the reindeer pregnancy lasting about seven months. This particular herd the researchers studied has expanded from 800 in the 1990s to around 1,400 today.
“Warmer summers are great for reindeer but winters are getting increasingly tough,” Albon told Reuters.
Temperatures in the Arctic are rising more quickly than the world average, caused by increased greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, according to most experts. There have been a number of studies focused on polar bears and the impact climate changes has had on their hunting range and habitats, but not much has been done on animals that live on the land all year long, such as Arctic foxes.
Ironically, the Arctic fox numbers are rising, due to the foxes feasting on the dead reindeer in winter, according to Eva Fuglei, a researcher at the Norwegian Polar Institute and the Fram Centre. Fuglei was not involved in the reindeer study.
The question remains, will Santa have to add members to his team in the coming years to make his rounds to all the world’s children?