Conservation Minnesota

Animals of the North Pole

The Holiday Season is here and thoughts of mistletoe, decorated trees and reindeer come to mind. Prep work at the North Pole is in full swing for some children whereas in reality it is a marker in the northernmost ocean rarely seen by animals this time of year other than a wandering polar bear.

The Christmas casting of animals includes partridges, hens, doves and of course famous reindeer, a domestic caribou. Author Washington Irving first pictured Santa and reindeer in 1809. It was a good choice and has some foundation for the holiday stories. The click and clatter roof-top sounds heard on December 24th are actually the snapping tendons on the tarsal joints. The noises help the large caribou herds keep track of each other in the heavy fog and snowfalls. Caribou have large round eyes and a furred nose although not red in color until Robert May wrote an ad for Montgomery Ward in 1939 featuring Rudolph. Reindeer are used to pulling 300 pound sleds in many northern European countries, and they are the only member of the deer family where the male and female don beautiful antlers. As for flight, a pack of wolves could launch a herd of caribou into their famous stodding gate that literally projects them in the air with all four legs simultaneously.

Minnesota used to have woodland caribou ranging in the northeastern forests. The clearing of forests brought white-tailed deer to the northern part of the state. A council of biologists and concerned citizens was formed to reintroduce the caribou, but the competition from deer was thought too onerous for any success. The last caribou in Minnesota was sited two decades ago and it was most likely a migrant from Canada.

The unintended consequence of clearing forests was detrimental to caribou and other species designed to survive in the thick forests dotted with lakes and streams.

However, we are left with many presents in our wild lands. Our adaptable wildlife survives the chilly winter with warm fur and thick feathers, but they need food and cover to make it through the next several months. In this time of giving, think about providing a brush pile for protection, or leave some dead limbs with cavities for nighttime roosting. For bird lovers; a bird feeder full of sunflowers seeds will provide the most colorful holiday sight- a bright red Cardinal.

Nancy Gibson is a co-chair of Legislative Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources, co-founder of the International Wolf Center, author and CMVC board member.

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