In past times, the spreading area, in terms of its surface area, of the wild forest reindeer was apparently the most extensive in the 1600s-1700s, when the wild forest reindeer inhabited nearly the entire Eastern Fennoscandian and Northwestern Russian areas all the way to Ilmajärvi. In the first half of the 1800s, the wild forest reindeer was one of the most common wild animals in the Olonetsky District, and also further south and east of it. Wild forest reindeer were very common in the area between Onega and Ladoga. There were more wild forest reindeer than elk in the Pudozhsky District, and when covered with a heavy snow blanket, the hunters were usually able to kill 5-15 animals from the herd. In addition the boundary of the range of the wild forest reindeer was at that time much further south and spread into the Vologda area into Vytegra and into the present-day Leningrad area all the way to the New Ladoga. However, by the end of the 2000s, the wild forest reindeer has disappeared from the most agriculturally advanced areas in the Republic of Karelia, for example, the Ladoga environs, the Olontesky plain and areas near Onega.
At the turn of the 21st century, the spreading area of the wild forest reindeer in Northern European Russia has noticeably decreased. The main reasons for this were unregulated hunting, burn-clearing, the building of railroads and the building of the White Sea – Baltic Sea channel. In the Archangel area in the early 2000s, the range of the wild forest reindeer decreased and became scattered. In addition, as a result of the building of the Northern Railroad, a wide hole was formed in the middle of the spreading area of the wild forest reindeer in the area between the Northern Dvina River and Lake Onega.
During all times, in the Northern European Russia, reindeer herding has efficiently restricted the spreading of the wild forest reindeer and the growth of the stock. Herders have actively hunted wild reindeer to reduce reindeer losses, because domesticated reindeer may leave their herds and head toward the forest after the wild reindeer.
In the 1930s, reindeer were fairly common in the Republic of Karelia, and the size of the stock was almost two thousand individuals. At the same time, small groups of wild forest reindeer could be found also in the northern part of the Vologda area, forming a wide unified range together with the Pudozhsky District in Republic of Karelia and the Kargopolsky District in the Archangel area. Wild forest reindeer could even be found in the eastern part of the Leningrad area – in the 1930s, hunters have seen groups composed of 3-7 individuals in the area between the Lid River and Kolp River.
In the postwar years, as a result of protection and a long-term hunting ban, the size of the wild forest reindeer stock grew and its spreading area became more extensive. At that time also, the actual range of the wild forest reindeer was located in the central part of the Republic of Karelia, in the north it was restricted to the reindeer herding area. Until the mid-1970s, the wild forest reindeer stock in the Republic of Karelia grew steadily, then the number of the animals stabilised and remained very high with the exception of annual fluctuations. The habitat of the wild forest reindeer in the eastern part of the Republic of Karelia spread into the Archangel area, forming a unified spreading area of the same subspecies all the way to the area between Lake Onega and Northern Dvina River, where no wild forest reindeer could be found. According to a aerial survey done in 1974, there were approximately 15,400 wild reindeer in the Archangel area wilderness. The smallest scattered habitats in the eastern part of Karelia have blended into a wide unified area from the southern Vychegda River to the northern boundary of the taiga area and from the Pinega River downstream in the Kuloi River and Northern Dvina River area all the way to the border of the Republic of Komi.
In the final half of the 1980s, the number of wild forest reindeer in the Archangel area decreased rapidly. The primary reason for this was poaching using snowmobiles, so by the 2000s, the habitat of the wild forest reindeer once again became scattered. In the western part of the Archangel area, the wild forest reindeer survived only in the southwestern part of the Onega District. In the eastern part of the Archangel area, the largest wild forest reindeer groups move in the border areas of the Archangel area, the Nenets Autonomous Okrug and the Komi Republic, and additionally in the upstream of the Northern Dvina River in the Krasnogorsky District and in the upstream of the Uftyuga River.
Beginning in the mid-1990s, the number of wild forest reindeer in the Republic of Karelia fell to 3,000, less than half the number in the 1980s. In the southern part of Karelia, the habitats of the animals decreased and became scattered. According to the results of an aerial survey done in 2014, it is estimated that there are 2,400 individuals in the Republic of Karelia.
In the Komi Republic at the end of the past century, the wild forest reindeer stock also decreased. In 1990, it was estimated that there were approximately 4,500-7,000 individual wild forest reindeer. The illegal hunting of wild cloven-hoofed animals started to grow rapidly along with the socioeconomic crisis that broke out in Russia in the 1990s. In 1996-1998, the size of the plains stock fell to approximately 1,500-2,000 individuals, which led to a hunting ban in 2000. Today in the Komi Republic, the range of the wild forest reindeer is mosaic-like. In the latter half of the 2000s, the strength of the stock was approximately 3,000-3,500 individuals. In the Komi area, the wild forest reindeer have survived mainly in the central and northern parts far away in the wilderness and unhabited regions, where there are few human activities. The largest groups move in the Timanski ridge region and its nearby areas and the polar and northern regions of Western Ural. Small groups also appear in the Vychegda River and Mezen River bodies of water.
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)