The population of Arctic’s unique wild creature the wild reindeer has reduced drastically in the last two decades. Referred to as caribou, a new report tabled at American Geophysical Research Union meeting revealed that due to climate change the numbers of these animals fell from 5 million to just 2.1 million within past 20 years. It stated that changing weather patterns and vegetation are making tundra region of Arctic inhospitable for the reindeer and the vast herds that used to roam across northern Canada and Alaska are diminishing rapidly. Scientists working on the behavior and migration patterns of caribou say that these gentle animals are faring the worst from global warming as some herds have shrunk by nearly 90%.
According to Prof Howard Epstein from Virginia University, who was also involved in research of Arctic Report Card, the ongoing warming session in Arctic does not show any signs of abating and there is sign of increased drought in some areas as warming is leading to a new change in vegetation. Caribou generally feed on lichen that grows at ground level where there is snow and temperature levels are low. But warming has led to change in vegetation and growth of tall grass which is outcompeting lichen.
Besides food scarcity the caribou now also have to face a new issue in the form of insects which proliferate in warmer climates. During warm and windy weather these insects are very oppressive for reindeer that have to now spend their energy in getting rid of insects around them or find locations where they will be free of them. The region is also facing increasing amount of rainfall that makes the ground hard and frozen when it falls on ice. This makes it difficult for the animals to break through and reach their food lichen that is hidden among clumps of ice.