The preservation of biodiversity by farming endangered species is one of the most important missions of zoos. It is not just a question of preserving animals; zoos have been involved in numerous reintroductions, where endangered species or animals extinct in the wild have been released back to their original habitats.
Zoos also play a large role in the WildForestReindeerLIFE project. The progenitor animals in the Seitseminen and Lauhanvuori enclosures are mainly individuals born and raised in zoos. The offspring of these zoo-born wild forest reindeer will eventually be released into the wild from the natural habitat enclosures.
Zoos keep meticulous notes of their inhabitants and their lineages. Like many other species, wild forest reindeer have their own pedigree. The information stored in this pedigree is used by the coordinator in charge of the specific species to decide which individuals can be used as studs. The pedigree can help in choosing a genetically adequately diverse group of wild forest reindeer for the enclosures.
A license is always required for releasing animals from zoos in to the wild. The wild forest reindeer is a game animal in Finland, which is why licenses for releasing the species are provided by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.
Helsinki Zoo, Ähtäri Zoo, and RanuaZoo are all involved in the WildForestReindeerLIFE project. Zoo employees participate in planning the daily care of the wild forest reindeer living in the on-site enclosures, and will provide wildlife veterinarian assistance if necessary.
The project offers zoos a unique opportunity to diversify the zoo population of wild forest reindeer. Nearly 150 wild forest reindeer currently inhabit 22 European zoos, but the entire zoo population is originated from a small group of individuals. The project will enable introducing a sprinkle of the Kainuu wild forest reindeer genome into the zoo population. This will concurrently ensure that future reintroductions of the species remain possible.
Picture: A wild forest reindeer calf at Helsinki Zoo in spring 2017. (Photography: Mari Lehmonen, Helsinki Zoo)
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)