Castration May Protect Reindeer in Warming Arctic

Reindeer are adapted to the chilly climes of the Arctic tundra, including Scandinavia (shown), as they sport hollow hairs that air and act as insulation. (Image credit:

A possible solution to help Arctic reindeer cope in a warming world may sound out there, but researchers say it may very well be the solution: castration, Reuters reports.

Neutered male reindeer grow larger and as such are more fit for breaking through thick layers of ice with their hooves and or antlers to get to the lichens beneath, Sami researchers found. These bulkier reindeer also seemed more willing to share food with calves than other males, according to Reuters.

Climate change means Arctic temperatures vary more, with thawing snow refreezing to form a thick layer of ice over the reindeer food.

Reindeer herders tend to castrate the animals, partly to make them more docile, but this new finding suggests it's a way to keep the herds healthy as their habitat warms. Reuters notes that in Russia, herders castrate about half of all male reindeer usually by biting into the testicles with their teeth.

In fact, reindeer and caribou numbers worldwide have plunged nearly 60 percent in the last three decades due to climate change and habitat disturbance caused by humans, found a 2009 study published in the Global Change Biology Journal.

(Reindeer and caribou are two names for the same species -- Rangifer tarandus -- with reindeer generally referring to the domesticated variety that are herded by humans and pull sleds.)

Read the full Reuters story.

You can follow LiveScience managing editor Jeanna Bryner on Twitter @jeannabryner.

Live Science Staff
For the science geek in everyone, Live Science offers a fascinating window into the natural and technological world, delivering comprehensive and compelling news and analysis on everything from dinosaur discoveries, archaeological finds and amazing animals to health, innovation and wearable technology. We aim to empower and inspire our readers with the tools needed to understand the world and appreciate its everyday awe.