The Suomenselkä population began from wild forest reindeer transferred from Kainuu in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This can be termed "reintroduction", since there was a sound population of wild forest reindeer there up to the end of the eighteenth century. The restocking of the area began with 2 males and 8 females kept in captivity. Some of the females were pregnant. The numbers increased in captivity, and the first 4 individuals were released in 1981.
In reintroducing a migratory species like the wild forest reindeer, the phase in captivity was important, since individuals have a strong drive to return to their area of origin, in this case, Kuhmo. The descendants of captive individuals were the most important founders of the new reindeer stock, since they had become attached to the area as calves.
The Suomenselkä population began to grow and spread. Growth continued into the 2000s, since when the population has remained fairly stable at just over one thousand individuals (1 250 - 1 300 individuals in 2015).
The wild forest reindeer of Suomenselkä wander over a wide area. In the south, their range extends as far as Alajärvi. This is an area where large herds have often gathered for winter, although there has been considerable variation in the location of their main winter areas. To the north, individual herds have been found on the western shores of Lake Oulujärvi. A difference of only a few tens of kilometres prevents the outermost individuals from the Kainuu and Suomenselkä herds from meeting and beginning to form shared herds. However, this has not yet happened.
A significant proportion of female wild forest reindeer from Suomenselkä go in the spring to calf in the wilderness areas where the first individuals were held in captivity.
In the period 1989-1993, Ähtäri Zoo released a total of 14 wild forest reindeer. Initially, the released animals made long journeys to the Satakunta region, but since then the population has become established within the area bounded by Ähtäri, Soini, Karstula and Alajärvi.
A few dozen wild forest reindeer have been seen every year in the area. They have not been observed to have connections with the wild forest reindeer of Suomenselkä, even though individuals and herds may end up very close to each other in the Alajärvi region during their migrations.
Wild forest reindeer
Latin name: Rangifer tarandus fennicus, a wild "cousin" of the reindeer
Range and numbers:
In Finland, 700 individuals in Kainuu and 1,250 in Suomenselkä
In Russian Karelia up to 2,400, with an estimated 1,500 in Arkhangelsk and 2,500 in Kom (the question of the taxonomic status of wild reindeer of Arkhangelsk province and Komi Republic is open and requires special research). See range map.
Conservation status in Finland: Near Threatened (NT)