“What is that?” keeper Pamela Weber wondered as she surveyed the reindeer exhibit at the San Diego Zoo. In the corner of the exhibit was a furry black bundle, completely unexpected. Did a wild raccoon or opossum somehow make its way into the enclosure? Upon closer inspection, Pamela realized it was, of all things, a baby reindeer!
Reindeer are found in arctic and subarctic regions of Eurasia and North America and are well adapted to life on the tundra. Calves are usually born between May and June and can stand and walk minutes afterward. They grow quickly on their mother’s rich milk so that they can keep up with the herd, which can be as large as 10,000 animals.
The Zoo’s herd of reindeer grew when three female reindeer arrived in April 2010. What we didn’t know was that secretly smuggled in with one of them was a tiny stowaway. Surprise! One of the females was pregnant. Little Boris was welcomed into the world early on the morning of September 18, 2010. His young mother was very attentive and encouraged him to get up to nurse, but in spite of his best efforts, his legs were not strong enough to let him stand. It was obvious that Boris needed medical care and nutritional support. Keepers carefully packed him up and brought him to the Zoo hospital, where he was quickly attended to.
Nursery keepers began offering him bottles. He was nursing and doing well, but was not gaining weight as fast as he should have. After consulting with the Zoo’s veterinarians and nutritionists, we adjusted his formula by increasing the fat and calories. Reindeer live in a very cold, harsh environment, so it makes sense that we would need to feed a milk formula that was higher in calories and fat than one fed to a hoofed baby from a warmer climate. In fact, reindeer milk has four to five times the amount of fat found in cow or goat’s milk. Thankfully, the new formula worked well, and five days after hospital admission little Boris was medically cleared and ready to return to the herd.
Kim Weibel is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Check back soon for Kim’s next post about Boris.