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The Return of the Forest Reindeer

The Forest Reindeer: Extinction, Recovery, Decline

The Forest reindeer, Rangifer tarandus fennicus, is a subspecies of reindeer. Once common in Finland, it was hunted to extinction in the end of the 19th or early 20th century. Conservation efforts, focussed on the few individuals that dispersed back to Finland from Russia, have allowed for a re-establishment of this subspecies in Finland, divided into two isolated sub-populations (Kuhmo and Ostrobothnia).

Forest Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus fennicus), June 2004.

© Photo by Jiří Bohdal (

Although both populations more than doubled in size between 1992 and 2001, more recent surveys suggest they are declining again. The Kuhmo population, which suffered the most drastic decline, is mainly threatened by an increase in predator numbers (wolves), road accidents and poaching. The Ostrobothnia population suffered a more subtle decline, which was mainly due to over-hunting.

The Involvement of Zoos: Captive Breeding and Reintroduction

Helsinki Zoo was the first zoo to keep these animals in captivity, when it received wild-caught animals in 1973. Since then, the captive population has been monitored – all individuals currently kept in captivity are of known origin. When the European Studbook (ESB) was established for this subspecies, in 2001, more zoos became interested and, by 2014, there were 20 zoos from 11 countries keeping these animals (for a total of 125 captive individuals).

Family of Forest Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus fennicus), 2012.

© Photo by Mari Lehmonen (Helsinki Zoo archives).

A reintroduction programme is planned for Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, and several areas in Finland. Forest reindeer are regionally extinct in Nizhny Novgorod. Animals from Moscow Zoo are kept in a fenced area, in Kerzhensky State Nature Biosphere Reserve, and they will be released into a large protected area once the breeding stock is big enough.

In Finland, wild-born and captive-bred individuals (from Ahtäri, Ranua, Helsinki and Nordens Ark zoos) will breed in acclimatization enclosures, near the area where they will be released. Two-year-old individuals, born in these enclosures, will be continuously released for a few years. Once these releases stop, wild-born individuals will be mixed with the zoo population, to increase its genetic diversity.

The Zoo Scientist thanks EAZA for providing the information for this article.


  • Blomqvist, L. (2012) European Studbook for Forest Reindeer, Rangifer tarandus fennicus, 2011. Nordens Ark Foundation

  • Blomqvist, L. (2015) EAZA Husbandry Guidelines for Eurasian Forest Reindeer: Rangifer tarandus fennicus, Lönnberg 1909 and the 2014 European Studbook (ESB). Nordens Ark Foundation

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