Scientists: Kamchatka's wild reindeer are unique

Scientists: Kamchatka's wild reindeer are unique.

16.04.2021

This was revealed as a result of a genetic examination carried out in the laboratory of the A. N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow. Experts examined the DNA of animals from the largest group on the peninsula, which was preserved in the Kronotsky Nature Reserve. 

The wild reindeer that lives in Kamchatka is the largest in Eurasia. Some experts believed that this is a separate subspecies, others attributed it to the Okhotsk (Rangifer tarandus phylarchus), whose representatives live in the Magadan region and the Chukotka Autonomous District. As a result of recent studies of DNA from the biomaterials of artiodactyls collected in the Kronotsky Reserve (excrement, horn fragments, wool), scientists have found that in various parameters the animals differ from their relatives from other regions. 

"Based on the ecological, morphometric and genetic data obtained, it can be concluded that the population of the wild reindeer of the Kronotsky Reserve is a genetically peculiar grouping that differs from other populations of Rangifer tarandus. It can be attributed to a separate eco-geographical unit that requires special protection and constant monitoring. All this points to the need to take measures to preserve this population, which excludes the introduction (settlement) of reindeer from other parts of the Kronotsky Nature Reserve," said Marina Kholodova, Head of the Department of Molecular Diagnostics Methods at the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Research on wild reindeer of Kamchatka will continue. "The unique population of wild reindeer is the pride of the residents of Kamchatka, and its preservation is our priority. First of all, the animals must be protected from poachers. Operational teams are coping with this problem on the territory of the reserve, but a significant part of the winter pastures is located outside of it, and there we cannot do anything without the help of the regional authorities and the public, " said Peter Shpilenok, director of the Kronotsky State Reserve. – At one of the meetings of the public environmental Council under the Governor of the Kamchatka Territory, it was decided to develop a joint program with the region for the conservation of wild reindeer, which will reduce the human impact on the population. And, of course, it is necessary to create a protected area of the Kronotsky Nature Reserve, otherwise we may lose the rarest animals.

Now the staff of the Kronotsky Reserve is watching several dozen wild reindeer in the Kronotsky-Bogachevskaya tundra. A large herd came from the winter pastures. 

"There are males, females, and cubs in the herd. Out of 44 individuals, I counted 9 fawns born last year. The winter this year was warm, mild, and the conditions for the survival of the deer are ideal. I think that this is only the first herd, the rest will catch up later. The animals behave very calmly, there are no predators nearby, no wolf tracks have been seen for a long time. In late May-early June, the female reindeer (vazhenka) will start calving and we will see small fawns. I hope that the population of wild reindeer will grow, " said Alexey Maslov, state inspector of the Federal State Budgetary Institution "Kronotsky State Reserve". 

Animals correctly allocate seasons for the use of forage areas. Deer usually go to mountain pastures at the end of October – in winter it is easier for them to get lichens in areas where the snow is blown by the wind. In the spring, when the animals eat the available food, they return to the coastal tundra, where they continue to eat reindeer moss, where they also have offspring. 

Additional information: 

Until the 80s of the last century, Kamchatka was inhabited by about 20,000 wild reindeer. The sharp decline in numbers began as a result of irrational hunting, poaching and infrastructure development. The greatest damage to the population was caused by domestic reindeer husbandry – wild animals were forced out of their traditional pastures and illegally shot. 

By 2006, the number of deer decreased to 2 thousand individuals, they were listed in the Red Book of Kamchatka as a species with a "focal nature of distribution and a tendency to further decrease in number". By 2010, the only Kronotsko-Zhupanovskaya population of wild reindeer with a total number of about 900 individuals remained on the peninsula. The strict conservation regime of the Kronotsky Nature Reserve helped to preserve it. 

After the powerful eruption of the Kizimen volcano, which began on December 9, 2010 and lasted exactly 3 years, the number of animals began to decline catastrophically. 

According to the latest air surveys, which were conducted in the spring of 2020, the number of the only large group of wild reindeer in Kamchatka, which is preserved in the Kronotsky Reserve, is about 400 individuals.