There might be trouble on the horizon for the stalwart workers that pull Santa's sleigh. A new study has found that ecosystems, local economies and climate change could be to blame for the decline in reindeer populations around the world.
Reindeer are found primarily in the Canada and Alaska regions of North America; northern European countries like Finland, Sweden and Norway as well as parts of Asia. While reindeer once celebrated unprecedented prosperity as different cultures spread them around the world as work animals and livestock, in recent years the reindeer populations have been on the decline.
Chinese researcher and lead author of the study, Xiuxiang Meng, cites at least six factors for the decrease in population: inbreeding due to seclusion from other herds in places like Russia and China; poaching for antlers; an increase of natural predators including bears, wolves and lynx; a lack of herders and breeders; climate change; and changes to the tourism industry.
Although currently reindeers are classified as being of "least concern" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)'s Red List, Meng and others who compiled the new study published in the Journal for Nature Conservation urges that the animal's status be updated before it is too late. Currently, reindeer population data on the red list is vastly out of date, with the last assessment being done in 2008. Meng states that the reindeer populations in Russia, China and Mongolia - particularly China - should be given primary concern. The reindeer in China comprise the southernmost herds of the animal in the world, but due to ever-increasing development, the reindeer habitats in China are growing smaller while the reindeer in Russia and Mongolia suffer from overhunting by both man and predator. Considering Asia is thought to be the birthplace of the animal, it would be a sad day indeed to see them die out in their homeland.