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Reindeer Facts

The Martha Stewart Show, December 2007

The larger-than-life holiday identity of reindeer likely originated from their ability to pull a heavy sleigh around their arctic homes. The nomadic reindeer-herding Saami people of northern Scandinavia and Asia have relied on reindeer for more than 5,000 years. Traditional Saami costumes feature red and green colors, pointy hats and pointy boots, just some of many connections between these people and Christmas traditions.

Reindeer have different functions in different cultures. The most widespread, large herbivores in the arctic and their seasonal grazing patterns stimulate new plant growth. A reindeer's remarkable ability to pull twice its weight for miles on end has provided much-needed muscle power for the nomadic Saami people. Today, reindeer are mainly used in the United States and around the world to demonstrate the link between humans and animals and the environment. In Norway, they're used for ecotourism and are a major source of income.

Their antlers are made up of the fastest growing tissue in the animal kingdom, growing up to an inch a day. Made of bone, reindeer antlers can grow within only a few weeks of birth. Reindeer are the only species of deer where both sexes have antlers, although only male reindeer develop a brow shovel, which they use to clear snow and ice off of grass.

Reindeer eat essentially any vegetation found in the tundra, and have an amazing sense of smell that allows them to detect food beneath up to 3 feet of snow. Reindeer fur has incredible insulating qualities and can protect these animals down to 80 degrees below zero and up to 115 degrees above. Found in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia, all reindeer are domesticated or semidomesticated; the last wild reindeer were hunted out in Finland around 1900.

Resources
Special thanks to Jim Knox of Connecticut's Beardsley Zoo for sharing these interesting reindeer facts. See more of Jim Knox on "Jim Knox's Wild Zoofari," a live-action wildlife series airing on PBS that teaches kids about wildlife conservation. The reindeer seen on today's show are from Santa's Workshop, a theme park in North Pole, New York.

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Comments (6)

  • shewhowalksdog 14 Dec, 2008

    I would like to have a copy of this to show my students at school. I am not able to go to Martha's website on our school's internet service. Any ideas? Is there a way to get a copy?

  • NorthPole 20 Dec, 2007

    These reindeer do not live at a zoo and they do not live in Lake Placid. They actually live at Santa's Workshop at the North Pole in NY. Santa's Workshop opened in 1949 and is the oldest theme park in the US. Thousands of people visit this special place every year. Also Jim Knox from CT did not bring Santas reindeer to the show, he probably met them when Martha did just before the show aired.

  • aprilgr 5 Dec, 2007

    She should have made it more personal instead of just treating them as n n n n n n zoo animalsn n n n n n . They came from Santan n n n n n s Workshop at the North Pole, NY. Hundreds of kids visit them every year. She should have spoken with their handlers, and talked about what they do at Santan n n n n n s Workshop. Just n n n n n n an n n n n n theme park. How about the n n n n n n forerunner to todayn n n n n n s Theme Parksn n n n n n . It opened in 1949 way before Disney Land. She could have made this show more special, and she missed it.

  • murphofthenorth 5 Dec, 2007

    Mr. Knox should have known that the reindeer seen on your show were from Santa's Workshop at the North Pole NY non that they live at a zoo near Lake Placid. Santa's Workshop is not a zoo--and the reindeer you had are 2 that pull Santa's sleigh at the park. Mr. Knox could have said the reindeer actually do live a the north pole keeping in the spirit of the year and would not have been lying.

  • lindyoconnell 4 Dec, 2007

    My four-year-old son makes watching day time television shows nearly impossible. I really appreciated the reindeer segment on the show earlier today, both my son and I enjoyed it, and learned something. I love all of your recipes, and ideas, especially around the holidays, however it was really refreshing to see something new. Thanks martha!

  • Jwalter 4 Dec, 2007

    We loved your segment on the reindeer. They are such an icon of Santa Claus, we were surprise to learn all those interesting facts. Please have the animal expert, Jim Knox on again with even more animals. We loved it!