Did you find any reindeer and sleigh tracks on your roof or in your yard on Christmas Day?
The reason I ask is because you may not know it, but reindeer – like the ones that pull Santa’s sleigh – are related to tundra and woodland caribou that live in Canada, Alaska and the Northwest Territories.
Reindeer are found in Northern Europe and Asia. They’ve been domesticated – like our horses – and raised by humans as livestock. Caribou in North America, though, still live wild. Many of the large herds migrate hundreds of miles each year as they travel from winter to summer ranges.
Scientists have found that even though reindeer and caribou live far apart from each other, they share many of the same traits and likely interbred thousands of years ago. That was when scientists think there was a land bridge between Asia and North America in the far north. This allowed animals, and people, to migrate back and forth between the two large continents.
The land bridge eventually disappeared as the sea level rose. That left the two species separate for thousands of years. As a result, North America’s caribou developed different characteristics from their reindeer relatives. But when scientists look at the two animals’ DNA, a molecule that contains the building plans for each living thing, they are very similar.
So if Santa ever runs out of reindeer to pull his sleigh, maybe he can recruit some caribou to help out.
– Brett French, Gazette Outdoors editor