The only large herd of wild reindeer in Kamchatka is being reborn after Kizimen volcano eruption

The only large herd of wild reindeer in Kamchatka is being reborn after Kizimen volcano eruption.


The next stage of the study of rare artiodactyls has been completed in Kronotsky Reserve. Observers have registered many fawns born this year.

Wild reindeer of Kamchatka, which is included in the Red book of Kamchatka, is the largest subspecies in Eurasia. 

After 10 years of conservation challenges (Kizimen volcano eruption, ash fall on winter pastures and their restoration), the animals were able to survive and maintain their population. At the same time, despite the positive dynamics of growth in numbers, which experts noted during aviation surveys in 2020, the group is in critical condition, and drastic measures are needed to preserve it. 

“It is necessary to create a protected zone of Kronotsky Reserve, which will include key habitats for wild reindeer, their winter pastures – now they are outside the special protection natural areas. One of the measures to preserve the species may also be the creation of a reindeer farm,” said Piotr Shpilenok, director of Kronotsky State Reserve.

To resume multi-year monitoring of the Kronotsky-Zhupanovsky grouping, the staff of the reserve counted wild reindeer. In addition to aerial surveys, ground monitoring can provide a comprehensive picture of the number, sex and age structure and key habitats of reindeer in different periods of the year. 

"The main part of the work was carried out in places of traditional summer habitats of animals: Kronotskaya, Mokraya, Stolbovaya, Medvezhya, Bolshaya, and Rovnaya coastal tundras. We also examined Volchya tundra and Siny Dol tract. We observed reindeer during the rutting season, when animals unite in mating groups. During the survey we met 139 animals, almost 60% of which were single females and females with fawns. As a result, many samples of animal biomaterial were taken for further genetic research", said Nina Kim, a researcher of FSBI "Kronotsky State Nature Reserve".

The wild reindeer inhabiting Kamchatka is the largest in Eurasia. Some specialists believed that it was a separate subspecies, while others attributed it to the Okhotsk subspecies (Rangifer tarandus phylarchus), other members of which inhabit Magadan Oblast and Chukotka Autonomous Okrug. However, recent DNA testing of biomaterials of cloven-hoofed mammals collected from Kronotsky Reserve (excrement, pieces of horns and wool) has revealed that the animals differ from their relatives from other regions in many respects.

Until the 1980s, Kamchatka was inhabited by about 20,000 wild reindeer. A sharp decline in numbers began as a result of unsustainable hunting, poaching and infrastructure development. Domestic reindeer herding caused the greatest damage to the population - wild animals were forced out of their traditional pastures and illegally shot. When in 2006 the number of reindeer decreased to 2 thousand, they were put into the Red Book of Kamchatka as a species with "focal nature of spread and a tendency to further decrease in numbers". By 2010 the only Kronotsky-Zhupanovsky population of wild reindeer with the total number of about 900 animals has remained on the peninsula. The strict conservation regime of Kronotsky Reserve has helped to preserve it.

After a major eruption of Kizimen volcano, which began on 9 December 2010 and lasted for exactly three years, the number of animals began to decline dramatically. In 2020 another aerial survey of the Kronotsky-Zhupanovsky herd was conducted. A helicopter examined traditional winter pastures of the red-billed ungulates. According to data collected by scientists, the number of wild reindeer has increased by 20% in just three years. As a result of visual observations and subsequent calculations based on multi-year scientific methodology, the experts have determined the number of animals to be 350 which is 50 reindeer more compared to results of aerial surveys in 2017. The experts assume that the numbers might be slightly higher, but have provided a figure that they are 100% sure of. They also pointed out the high survival rate of calves born in 2019.