Wild forest reindeer are returning to Seitseminen and Lauhanvuori

Reintroducing wild forest reindeer to the Tampere Region (Pirkanmaa) and South Ostrobothnia (Etelä-Pohjanmaa) is a central part of the WildForestReindeerLIFE project. Seitseminen and Lauhanvuori National Parks have been chosen as the reintroduction sites.

The term reintroduction is used as opposed to translocation – as we are dealing with returning a native species to an area that it has formerly inhabited. Our chances of success are great, as the almost 1500-strong Suomenselkä wild forest reindeer population originates from a similar reintroduction conducted more than three decades ago.

From one-site enclosures into nature

The on-site enclosures built in Seitseminen and Lauhanvuori are the fundamental building blocks for the reintroductions. Wild forest reindeer born in these enclosures will be released as they reach adulthood. If all goes according to plans, the first individuals will be released during 2019. We hope that once the five-year enclosure period ends, some tens of wild forest reindeer individuals will be living in the vicinity of both national parks, with both populations experiencing steady growth.

The first wild forest reindeer inhabitants were relocated into the on-site enclosures in November 2017. The Seitseminen enclosure has eight individuals: four does originating from zoos, along with a wild stag and doe caught in Kuhmo. In addition, two calves were born in spring 2018 The Lauhanvuori enclosure has ten inhabitants: five does born in zoos, a calf of one of these does (born in spring 2017), a wild stag caught in Kuhmo and three calves born in spring 2018. As the project continues, additional wild forest reindeer will be brought to the enclosures. These individuals will originate from both zoos and the wild. The wild individuals will help diversify the genomes of the calves born in the enclosures.

Picture: A relocated doe from RanuaZoo is contemplating its new surroundings in the Seitseminen enclosure. (Photography: Milla Niemi)

The Seitseminen enclosure is approximately 14 hectares in size, while the Lauhanvuori enclosure is twice as large. The enclosures provide inhabitants with spacious conditions, but the animals do require regular supplemental feeding in addition to food growing naturally within the enclosures. Their diet consists mainly of reindeer fodder, leaf bundle fodder (a bundle of branches, with the leaves still attached, stored as winter fodder) and lichen. Individuals released from the enclosures will also not be left to fend for themselves, but will instead be provided with supplemental feeding close to the on-site enclosures if necessary.

On-site enclosures

The Seitseminen enclosure borders the national park, while the Lauhanvuori enclosure is located completely within the national park boundaries. Small changes will be made to the hiking path passing Ahvenlammi at Lauhanvuori, as the path will be temporarily rerouted to follow the border of the one-site enclosure. The rerouted path will also lead to the nearby Kaivolammi campfire site. The hiking path will be returned to its original route after the one-site enclosure period is completed.

Maintenance roads lead to both one-site enclosures, enabling the transportation of e.g. animal fodder. These maintenance roads are not primarily meant for private passenger vehicles. The roads therefore have boom barriers, and the enclosures can be visited by foot. Passenger vehicles are best left at one of the designated parking lots within the national parks. Parking lot locations can be found on the national park webpages and through the portal. Accidentally wandering into the enclosures is impossible, as the gates are kept locked to ensure the safety of the animals.

Visiting the enclosures does not guarantee sightings of wild forest reindeer, as both enclosures are large enough to allow the animals to hide at will from curious eyes.

The fencing around the enclosures outwardly resembles game fences. However, a great deal is required of these structures. The fencing must keep the wild forest reindeer from escaping, while concurrently ensuring that e.g. moose and large carnivores remain outside the one-site enclosures. The fencing is therefore more rugged than ordinary game fences, and electric wires encircle the fences at three different heights. The electrification is meant to keep large carnivores from entering the one-site enclosure. Receiving an electric shock from the fence is unpleasant, but not dangerous. Camera monitoring has been set up around the on-site enclosures.

Picture: Yellow plastic string has been attached to the fencing to improve its visibility. It is in place to prevent e.g. forest grouse species from colliding with the fence. (Photography: Milla Niemi)

A significant effort

The reintroductions are the single most visible part of the WildForestReindeerLIFE project. They total approximately a fifth of the project budget, i.e. their price tag is about one million euros. Costs are incurred not only from relocating the animals, but also e.g. from the fencing structures, daily feeding of the animals within the pre-release/acclimation enclosures, and also from monitoring the health of the individuals.

Info Box

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)