20,000 years ago, Fennoscandia and Russian Karelia were completely covered with ice.

Ice cover about 10,000 years ago. Wild reindeer arrive from the east and the southeast. Around this time, the wild forest reindeer developed as a species from the wild reindeer. Dark area: range of wild forest reindeer. Blue: ice.

Around 7,200 years ago. Wild forest reindeer spread out as ice cover decreases.

The range of the wild forest reindeer was still large in the seventeenth century. According to some sources, occurrences in the Swedish region may have also involved semi-domesticated reindeer.

The range was reduced in the eighteenth century.

In the nineteenth century, the range was also reduced and seriously fragmented in Finland.

The last wild forest reindeer were found in Finland in the early twentieth century, in the Kuhmo area.

In the following decades, the wild forest reindeer disappeared from Finland.

Herds of wild forest reindeer were seen again in Kuhmo in the 1950s.

By the 1980s, the Kainuu population had grown and spread. Wild forest reindeer were reintroduced to Suomenselkä.

By the early 2000s, the population reintroduced to Suomenselkä had grown to about 1,000 individuals and its range had increased. The Kainuu population has stabilized at around 800 individuals. The southern boundary of the range of wild forest reindeer in Karelia has retreated to the north, and the population is fragmented.

Range in Finland and Russian Karelia

As late as the seventeenth century, herds containing thousands of wild forest reindeer appeared throughout Finland, with the exception of the northern fell areas and southernmost Finland. Wild forest reindeer were hunted to extinction in Finland in the late 1910s, but continued to live in the remote backwoods of Russian Karelia. The Kainuu population was given a new start in the 1950s, when individuals began to come across the border to the Finnish side in Kuhmo, in the modern area of Elimyssalo.

Today, there are three populations of wild forest reindeer in Finland: in Kainuu, Suomenselkä, and Ähtäri. The wild forest reindeer of Kainuu also travel within the areas of North Karelia and Russian Karelia. In Russia, the wild forest reindeer is found in Kom and Arkhangelsk, as well as Karelia.

Range map © Google Maps

Info Box

Wild forest reindeer

Latin name: Rangifer tarandus fennicus, a wild "cousin" of the reindeer

Range and numbers:

In Finland, 750 individuals in Kainuu and 1,450-1,500 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)