Now, most of our visitors to San Diego Zoo will be familiar with our polar bears. They are incredible, powerful, and very beautiful animals that are always popular with our guests. (Read blogs about the polar bear trio.) But what you may not have noticed is behind the polar bears, in the San Diego Zoo’s Polar Bear Plunge habitat, in a very cleverly designed exhibit that blends into the background are two Siberian reindeer.
For 11 months of the year, the reindeer are happy to keep a low profile and let the polar bears steal all the attention. But in December, the reindeer are the stars of the show! I haven’t seen any Christmas decorations, or TV specials where polar bears are helping Santa Claus deliver Christmas presents to the kids….
We have two female Siberian reindeer at San Diego Zoo; they have the affectionate names of “Ear-Notch 16” and “Ear-Notch 7” (Most hoofed animals at the Zoo have small notches in their ears to make identification easier.)
Reindeer are amazing animals. They are found throughout the world’s Arctic regions, including, yes, the North Pole. They are the only species of deer in which males AND females have antlers, and like other deer, these antlers are shed each year.
They are perfectly designed for living in freezing temperatures with thick coats, hooves that shrink and tighten depending on the conditions, and a nasal passage that heats the incoming air before it hits their lungs. Amazing!
Reindeer have been incredibly important to the indigenous people of the Arctic regions. They were one of the first animals to be domesticated, and while polar bears are terrorizing communities and reminding us all about global warming, reindeer are providing food, clothing, and transportation to people. And let’s not forget about gift delivery: very handy!
So next time you are at the Zoo admiring the polar bears, be patient, stick around, and have a look at our reindeer. And I’d be happy to hear anyone’s suggestions for some better names that EN-16 and EN-7, but sorry, there’s no way we are calling one Rudolph.
Brent Clohesy is a keeper at the Melbourne Zoo in Australia doing a keeper exchange at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous blog, An Aussie in San Diego.