Hard winter life

Spitsbergen Reindeer
Spitsbergen Reindeer

One of the reasons for me to go to Spitsbergen two weeks ago was to see the place in winter. Not only the snow, the darkness and the sunsets, but also several animals in winter coat. I didn’t expect to see too many mammals. Maybe a seal or two (it turned out to be two indeed: a Walrus and a Bearded Seal), some Spitsbergen Reindeer and hopefully an Arctic Fox. I did manage to see both Arctic Fox as the Spitsbergen Reindeer, though the fox was too far up the mountain to take pictures.

The Spitsbergen Reindeer are of a distinct subspecies. In winter their coat gets a little lighter as in summer. Until now I had only seen the remnants of this winter coat, it was nice to see them fully in their warm winter coats. Winter for the Reindeer is pretty hard. There isn’t much to eat and what there is to eat is covered in snow. This is why they prefer the wind swept ridges, so there isn’t too much snow covering the little there is to eat. However, in recent years the temperature gets above freezing several times in a winter and sometimes it even rains. This makes life for them even more difficult, as this means the snow will melt and refreezes again as ice on the frozen soil. This layer of ice covers the vegetation and the Reindeer aren’t able to scrape this away with their hooves. The Reindeer rely heavily on their fat reserves, but need a little additional food to get through winter. If they can’t get this, many of them will die and whole subpopulations may die of starvation…

These Reindeer still seemed pretty OK, even though there was a lot of ice on the tundra…

Arjen Drost

Arjen is a Polar ecologist, nature photographer and full time expedition guide on expedition cruise ships in both Polar regions. With his pictures and stories he likes to show the beauty of these very fragile and threatened places.


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