The core activities for the Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute (RKTL) include evaluation of game resources, forecasting, and statistics. RKTL counts wild forest reindeer in Finland by helicopter every 1-3 years. The Finnish Wildlife Agency and Metsähallitus provide help in the count. Members of local hunting clubs take part by mapping the territories of wild forest reindeer. Aerial counts provide information about the population size and the proportion of calves.
In Finland, the number of wild forest reindeer is evaluated using the "total count method", which aims to count all the wild forest reindeer in the region. The count is performed in winter, when wild forest reindeer are in large herds, and when deep snow prevents them from moving much. The total count method can be used when the locations of wintering herds are well known and when the range is not very large.
In 2006, RKTL began using satellite tracking of wild forest reindeer, using GPS collars. Monitoring provides information for instance on migrating behaviour, feeding grounds, mortality rates, calf yields and calf survival. Tagging is done in cooperation with the Finnish Wildlife Agency. Wild forest reindeer are captured by means of fences, snowmobiles, beating, or with a tranquillizer gun from a helicopter. Only female wild forest reindeer are tagged. The neck of the male swells in the rutting season so tagging them with collars would not be safe.
In addition, RKTL and the Finnish Wildlife Agency gather observational data on the structure of wild forest reindeer herds. Monitoring is most effective when done during the autumn rutting season, when the animals are comfortable in herds and in open places. The data gathered provides information on, among other things, the proportion of calves and other age groups.
The results of research and monitoring are used in planning the management of the wild forest reindeer population in Finland.
Laboratory of Zoology, Biological Institute, Karelian Research Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences monitors the state of the forest reindeer population in the Republic of Karelia. One of the methods is winter track counting that makes it possible to assess dynamic changes in the reindeer population size and distribution during winter. Winter track counting has been conducted in the republic every year since 1964. Aerial surveys have been practised since 1960s, repeating at intervals of 3 to 5 years. In 2014, the forest reindeer population size and distribution were assessed using a helicopter within the scope of the KA-518 project of the Karelia ENPI CBC Programme. The population status is also evaluated during field studies carried out through seasons.
In the second half of the 1980s, joint studies were started with our Finnish colleagues within the Soviet–Finnish project Forest Reindeer. Seasonal migrations of the animals were studied using radio-collars. Also, reindeer pasture conditions were examined by evaluating the reindeer lichen canopy in the most significant reindeer habitats.
Much attention was focused on defining the Karelian forest reindeer’s taxonomic position. In the 1990s, skulls were collected for craniometric analysis that made it possible to determine the degree of relationship among reindeer living in Finland, Karelia, the Arkhangelsk and Murmansk regions. Studies of genetic diversity of wild reindeer were started in co-operation with our Finnish colleagues. In 2013, these studies were continued in co-operation with our Moscow colleagues (Severtsev Insitute for Ecology and Evolution Research).
A Finnish and Russian joint project (2013-2014) prepared a plan of action for common population management, research, and monitoring.
Photo: A female wild forest reindeer has been anesthetized for tagging.
Photo: Aerial count of a herd of wild forest reindeer on ice.
Wild forest reindeer
Scientific name: Rangifer tarandus fennicus
Range and numbers:
In Finland, 800 individuals in Kainuu, 2000 individuals in Suomenselkä and about 20 individuals in Seitseminen and Lauhanvuori National Parks (reintroduced populations).
In Russian Karelia up to 2,400. See range map.
Conservation status in Finland (2019): Near Threatened (NT)