You won’t need to stay awake and in hiding on Christmas Eve to catch a glimpse of reindeer this holiday season. Woodland Park Zoo, as part of its WildLights winter lights festival, is hosting a pair of these magical antlered animals from now until January 1, 2013.
The reindeer will be on view in the Picnic Shelter only during WildLights hours. In addition to seeing the reindeer and taking in the beautiful light displays, visitors can also enjoy listening to strolling carolers and rides (at $2 apiece) on the historic carousel. Young children can romp in Zoomazium, which will transform into a winter-themed “Snowmazium” during WildLights.
A Bit About Reindeer…
The two reindeer residing at Woodland Park Zoo are a pair of females named Lucky and Christi. Yes, they’re females, despite those imposing antlers! Reindeer are the only deer species in which both males and females grow antlers.
But by this time of year, the males have already shed their racks. Females, however, keep theirs until late spring, when they give birth to their calves. It’s thought that females, who are pregnant throughout winter, keep their antlers in order to dominate other reindeer who might try to muscle in on a nutritious batch of lichen that a reindeer cow has worked hard to dig up through layers of snow.
So any versions of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer you may see are inaccurate if the deer is sporting antlers. Rudolph would’ve shed his by Christmas. More likely, his sister Rudi was doing all the work, along with eight other female reindeer.
…Which, Yes, Are the Same as Caribou!
Reindeer and caribou are one and the same: Their species name is Rangifer tarandas. Caribou, the name used in North America, comes from a word meaning “snow shoveler” in the language of the Mi’kmaq people of Nova Scotia and Maine that was picked up, then processed by the French. (Caribou-hunting Inuit historically called the caribou “tuktu.”)
Rangifer tarandas, however, is divided into a number of subspecies, such as Peary caribou of Arctic islands; the mountain caribou of the Eurasian arctic tundra; the barren-ground caribou of Greenland and northern Canada; and the woodland caribou, a large, dark-furred animal of the boreal forest ranging from northwestern Canada east to Newfoundland, with a small population at the intersection of Idaho, Washington, and British Columbia.
Being domesticated (or semi-domesticated, as many sources indicate) has brought about some differences between Eurasia’s “reindeer” and North America’s “caribou.” Reindeer tend to be shorter and stockier than caribou. Cows of both species tend to be similar in size, while reindeer bulls are smaller than caribou bulls. Reindeer also have thicker fur than caribou. They are also more likely to bear twins, which caribou seldom do.
Reindeer were first domesticated in northern Eurasia about 3,000 years ago (and possibly as far back as 7,000 years ago). Herds are managed and the animals used for meat, milk, and hides. Reindeer also carry packs and pull sleighs–albeit ground-based ones. In some parts of Russia, large reindeer have also been ridden. In North America, wild caribou have long been a mainstay for many Inuit peoples.