This Christmas, Give A Thought To The Survival Of Wild Reindeer And Other Arctic Wildlife
We can safely assume that Santa’s reindeer are reasonably well nourished because of all the sugar plums and other goodies the elves feed them at the North Pole. Wild reindeer, on the other hand, which are native to Arctic and sub-Arctic regions all around the top of the earth, are finding it a little harder to find food these days. That’s because global climate change is altering their habitat in a couple of significant ways. Many other Arctic wildlife species are also being affected by the ongoing warming of our planet’s atmosphere.
Climate change, caused primarily by people’s use of fossil fuels, is warming the polar regions—the Arctic and Antarctic—much faster than it is affecting the earth’s middle latitudes. One effect this has on reindeer habitat is that plant species native to warmer, more southerly areas are spreading north, and can potentially compete with and even crowd out the plants that reindeer feed upon.
However, according to the World Wildlife Federation (WWF), the reindeer’s largest climate-related problem probably has to do with the fact that warming temperatures are causing increasing amounts of rain to fall on regions that formerly received most of their precipitation in the form of snow. Reindeer are used to pawing through snow in search of food; however, when snowfall is replaced by rain, the rain can freeze on top of snow that has already fallen, forming an icy barrier that is impenetrable to prancing reindeer hooves. As a result, reindeer can become malnourished, or be forced to migrate farther north, to areas where it is still too cold for rain to fall.
So far the problem has not yet reached a critical level, at least as far as reindeer are concerned—although other species such as polar bears and walruses are already having a very tough time. There are still around 5 million reindeer living around the northernmost parts of Europe, Asia, and North America. (In North America, including northern Canada and Alaska, reindeer are called caribou.) However, continued warming over the coming decades is certain to dramatically increase survival challenges for many Arctic and sub-Arctic species, including reindeer, polar bears, walruses, seals, Arctic foxes, wolves, and lynx.
But we are not helpless against climate change. There are at least 3 things that we as individuals can do:
1) Do what we can to cut down on our use of energy made from fossil fuels, including gasoline, electricity, and heating oil. (For instance, you can save money and heating oil by winterizing your home.)
2) Contact our government representatives, including our representatives in Congress, and tell them that we favor legislation that reduces our country’s output of carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse” gases.
3) Make a holiday donation to the WWF and other organizations that work hard to protect reindeer and other Arctic animals and their habitats.