If you have booked your trip on board one of Aurora Expeditions’ cruises to the Arctic Circle, you may begin to imagine what nature of unique creatures you’re likely to encounter en route. Fortunately, our expeditions are replete with sightings of a broad variety of wildlife and fauna, a number of which can only be found in such isolated areas. On our Svalbard Odyssey tour, you’ll have the best chance of spotting one of Norway’s beloved furry locals, the Svalbard reindeer. In the spirit of the festive season, we’re taking a closer look at these wonderful animals to find out more about their background and what they get up to when they’re not pulling Santa across the sky in his sleigh.

Meet Spitsbergen’s reindeer

The Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard is inhabited by few mammals, with the subspecies of Svalbard reindeer the only one of its kind. According to Andreas Umbreit’s Spitsbergen guide, the reindeer arrived here at the end of the last ice age during the Pleistocene era over 11,000 years ago. Fully wild, they are usually spotted in sparse groups, rather than large herds such as those seen in North America. These are groups of around usually three to five, growing slightly in autumn when the male reindeer form their harems. Fairly sedentary creatures, they will band together in bountiful feeding grounds, especially when winter comes, although it is incredibly rare to see more than 20 reindeer together. Near to extinction in the early 1900s due to heavy hunting, the reindeer gained protected status in 1925. There are now estimated to be about 10,000 Svalbard reindeer living on the islands.

What does a Svalbard reindeer look like?

Characterised by having short, plump legs, these reindeer are fairly small in general, the females and males weighing up to 70 and 90 kilogrammes in autumn. Both of the reindeer sexes have antlers, and will shed them each year to be replaced by a fresh pair. However, as described by Umbreit, the males will lose their antlers ahead of the females, many of which will be pregnant, meaning that for a time the females will move to the top of the herd hierarchy, giving them priority access to the often scarce food supply on Spitsbergen. The Svalbard reindeer’s short, dense fur acts as much-needed insulation against the weather, and is lighter on their belly and darker brown on their backs, lightening in the summertime.

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