The wild forest reindeer is a prey species for wolverine, wolf, lynx, and bear. Research has provided clear evidence of the impact of the wolf on wild forest reindeer populations. In Kainuu, a clear correlation was found between reduced wild forest reindeer calf survival, and the growth of the area's wolf population.
"What has happened during thousands of years of living together?" asks large predator researcher Ilpo Kojola. “It makes no sense for a predator to eat its prey to extinction, and threaten its own survival in the process.”
This is probably a love triangle, in which there is a moose involved.
Increasingly efficient forestry created the conditions for an increased moose population, which in turn contributed to the growth of the wolf population. Also, a landscape changed by felling and drainage increases the likelihood that a wild forest reindeer will end up on a wolf's menu. The size of the moose population is also heavily regulated by hunting; fluctuations in the number of moose naturally mean that the wolves have to vary their diet.
Similar observations have been made of the woodland caribou in North America.
And what about the sturdy individual lynx who hunts wild forest reindeer, or female bears living in the middle of the calving areas? Do they have an impact on wild forest reindeer populations? The wolverine, previously known as a mere scavenger, may play its own part as a predator.
In any case, there is an urgent need for more information on the interaction between wild forest reindeer and the large predators.
Since sufficiently large-scale changes in land use are probably not to be expected, problems must be solved using available means. This means, if necessary, management of large predator populations. Shooting licenses for lynx and bear have already been granted for population management purposes in wild forest reindeer areas. Improved calf yields for wild forest reindeer indicate that this approach is working.
Large carnivores are one of the most serious threats causing the death rate of cloven-hoofed animals in the Republic of Karelia. However, the number of large carnivores in the northern part of the area is very small, so their effect on the wild forest reindeer stock is minimal.
In the Republic of Karelia, the wild forest reindeer becomes prey for bear very rarely. However, bears may cause considerable damage to the wild forest reindeer in places. For example, in the northern part of the Republic of Karelia, the nests of bears are often located on the islands of the great lakes, which are also popular calving places for does. Indeed, on the islands, one may sometimes see marks of bear preying and remains of adults and calves.
The effect of wolves on the wild forest reindeer stock in different parts of the Repubic of Karelia is different and depends both on the number of wolves and the strength of the wild forest reindeer stock. The majority of the natural removals of the wild forest reindeer occur during the harshest times for cloven-hoofed animals – in the winter and early spring, when animals die of hunger, diseases and injuries or become prey of beasts. However, in certain cirumstances, quite healthy and full-grown animals become victims of wolves.
Despite the fact that the wild forest reindeer is a vital prey for the wolverine, removals caused by wolverines do not significantly impact the size of the wild forest reindeer stock in the Republic of Karelia. In addition, the wolverine mainly eats carcasses - the animals preyed on by the wolverine itself account for no more than 24% of the wolverine’s diet. In the range of the wild forest reindeer, the lynx is a rare carnivore, and the share of the wild forest deer in its diet is only 6.3%
Table: In Kainuu, mortality among wild forest reindeer calves is high during the first months of life. In 2004-2007, 70% of wild forest reindeer calves born to females fitted with collars were lost in the first few months. Source: RKTL. The proportion of survivors declines sharply. Days on the X-axis. At the start, a total of 51 calves were born to females with GPS.
Kojola, I. 2007: Petojen vaikutus metsäpeurakannoissa. Suomen Riista 53: 42−48.
Kojola, I. et al. 2009: European wild forest reindeer and wolves: endangered prey and predators. Annales Zoologici Fennici 46: 416–422.
Kojola I. et al 2009: Metsäpeura ja susi: uhanalainen saalis ja peto.
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)