The Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) conducts aerial surveys every year in the Kainuu region and every other year in the Suomenselkä region to estimate the wild forest reindeer population. Calf production is monitored using herd structure surveys. According to the most recent surveys, there are approximately 2,200–2,300 wild forest reindeers in Finland.

In addition to surveys, Luke studies the role of large carnivores, elks and living conditions as factors affecting the wild forest reindeer population, the distribution of wild forest reindeers and underlying factors, the demography of wild forest reindeers, the selection of the habitat and alternative strategic long-term population management solutions. This information offers support in the decision-making processes of the WildForestReindeerLIFE project and the governing ministry.

International agreements, such as the EU Nature Directive, require that the wild forest reindeer population is monitored closely. The wild forest reindeer is classified as near threatened (NT) in Finland.

The development of the number of individuals in Finland’s wild forest reindeer population in separate populations of Kainuu and Suomenselkä based on aerial surveys. Click to enlarge image.

Finland’s wild forest reindeer population has faced changes throughout the 2000s

Finland’s wild forest reindeer population has primarily been divided into two population groups that are not interconnected. The population, which spread naturally from the Republic of Karelia in Russia to the Kainuu region, first grew slowly starting from the 1970s, but dropped to less than half of the highest population figures during the first decade of the 21st century. The population in North Karelia has decreased to a few individuals. Currently, the Kainuu population mainly winters in the Sotkamo area. The population introduced in the Suomenselkä region has returned to a growth path after a more stable period. At the same time, it is spreading to new areas along the Suomenselkä divide up to the reindeer husbandry area.

In early spring 2018, the Suomenselkä wild forest reindeer population wintering around Lappajärvi was surveyed. It was calculated that there are 1,450–1,500 wild forest reindeers in the forests of Suomenselkä. Instead, the most recent successful survey in Kainuu was conducted in 2017. Based on it, there are approximately 750 individuals in the region. The Ähtäri-Soini wild forest reindeer population was surveyed to consist of 21 individuals.

Key survey methods and themes

Winter aerial surveys are conducted as a total survey from a helicopter. The total survey requires a preliminary survey using identified animals, a survey out in the field and cooperation with other parties and the public.

The annual calf production is identified in Kainuu using autumn surveys based on observations of wandering herds. The autumn survey requires a preliminary survey mainly conducted using identified animals. In the autumn survey, the proportion of females with calves from all females is estimated.

Luke identifies female wild forest reindeers using transponder collars that produce information about their movements, demographics (births, deaths, movements) and causes of deaths. The information obtained from identified animals is essential in identifying the size, structure and status of each herd and any underlying factors. In addition, information about the movements of identified animals is needed for the management of the risk of genetic pollution caused by reindeer.

Picture on the top of the page: Arvo Juntunen, Luke.