If there is no remedy in a few years, Santa Claus could run out of helpers. And not because their reindeer grow older, but because the populations of wild caribou are collapsing. In 20 years, the number of wild reindeer has declined by 56 percent, from 4.7 million copies to 2.1 million individuals, according to the report «Artic Report Card 2018» of the US Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Scientists attribute these continuous declines since the 1990s to Arctic warming. Although at first one might think that these animals capable of living in hostile environments have more fodder, the truth is that this increase in temperatures increases the frequency of drought and affects the quality and quantity of forage. In addition, the longer and warmer summers also increase the presence of flies, parasites and disease outbreaks. Scientists also explain that it may be due to increased predation and hunting, as well as heat stress in animals, which weakens their ability to resist disease and food shortages. And not only that. Scientists also detected "drag" effects that reflect the adaptability of caribou to buffer adverse weather. Thus, as described by the scientists of the Arctic Program, a series of years with adverse conditions, such as drought, for example, decreased pregnancies and survival of the offspring. This brutal decline affects the populations of North America, Greenland, Russia and Norway. In fact, only two of the 22 monitored populations have populations close to their highest historical numbers, according to estimates that have been updated since the Arctic 2013 report.
However, as highlighted by NOAA, the largest decreases are in Alaska and Canada, where five populations in particular have experienced such drastic declines of over 90% and show no signs of recovery, at least not in the short term. In Canada, for example, nine populations declined so precipitously that reindeer of arid land are now classified nationally as Endangered, and two eastern migratory populations are considered Endangered. In Russia, 18 of the 19 populations evaluated are considered to be decreasing or threatened.
Although it is normal that the number of herds varies over the decades, at present some herds have the lowest populations since they have records. The continuous and increasing decreases represent, in turn, a threat to indigenous communities, who traditionally depend on them for their food.
In addition to analyzing the long-term status of iconic wild species in the region, this year's report shows that the Arctic region experienced the second warmest air temperature ever recorded; the second lowest total sea ice coverage; the lower presence of winter ice in the Bering Sea, and that the plankton blooms before due to the early melting of the sea ice in the mentioned sea of Alaska.