The last Ice Age culminated over 10,000 years ago. As the ice sheets receded, the first groups of wild reindeer reached Fennoscandia from the eastern side of the Baltic Sea. Wild reindeer were also able to migrate into Fennoscandia via other routes, as different phases in the withdrawal of the ice created different land connections.
Once the land was freed from ice, wild reindeer roamed as far as the Arctic Ocean. As the ice retreated and coniferous forests took over increasing areas, more opportunities appeared for new species to develop in different environments. Wild reindeer and caribou have adapted to live in either forested environments or mountain areas.
With the retreat of the ice sheets, wild reindeer also reached Fennoscandia from Siberia, where the first reindeer adapted to forests probably developed. The wild forest reindeer is a European subspecies. Its area of distribution, at its greatest, extended across the continuous coniferous forest belt from the Urals to Northern Sweden. In 1909, a Swedish Professor, E. Lönnberg, gave the subspecies the name Rangifer tarandus fennicus. In Finnish, the wild forest reindeer is sometimes called "suomenpeura" (Finnish reindeer) or "petra".
The subspecies, wild forest reindeer, probably appeared in Fennoscandia about 5,000 years ago. It was a major prey for Stone Age hunters in the area that is now Finland. Several theories have been put forward about the routes by which wild reindeer spread, and about the exact means by which the wild forest reindeer developed as a subspecies.
Photo: The light and short-legged animal (fifth from left) is a young reindeer. The long-legged wild forest reindeer does better in deep snow than the semi-domesticated reindeer, which is adapted to life on the fells.
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)