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Reindeer Are Scared of Snowkiting Hordes—Skiers, Not So Much

Shutterstock_31436419A reindeer running in Norway. Photo: Shutterstock

Here's something that might not surprise: Scientists have used a model to predict that if a formation of 241 snowkiters were to fly across the Norwegian tundra at six miles per hour toward a herd of reindeer, the animals would be so stressed out that they would stop feeding entirely and try to escape.

Scientists modeled such a response after a series of observations. In the winter of 2006-07, they recorded the flight response times of reindeer in Norefjell-Reinsjøfjell, Norway, as the animals were approached directly by snowkiters and skiers. The reindeer ran further away when the intruder had a kite. The snowkiters could move over large areas. The skiers kept to trails. The scientists modeled the effect of the skiers on the herd and found them to be less disruptive than the snowkiters. A group of 105 skiers would reduce reindeer feeding time by up to 7.5 percent. Once the number of skiers increased beyond that, the scientists said the reindeer would just move away from the ski trails and return to normal feeding.

The scientists did not return emails for comment or a full text of their work, but a follow-up article on the study in the BBC said that the response was logical for a number of reasons: snowkiters cover more area than skiers, they move faster than skiers, and the athletes' kites are more visible for a greater distance.

Whether snowkiting ever reaches a level of popularity where 241 athletes would gather to fly at a herd of reindeer remains to be seen. But, apparently, in Norway, the sport has gained enough traction that scientists felt it was necessary to recommend more study and management of snowkiters in reindeer habitat.

—Joe Spring

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