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The Svalbard reindeer

The Svalbard reindeer (Rangifer tarandus platyrhynchus Vrolik, 1829) was extensively hunted for fresh meat. You can find more information about the species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and on the websites of the Norwegian Polar Institute and MOSJ (Environmental Monitoring in Svalbad and Jan Mayen).

On our page, we provide you with a glimpse into the historical archives. What do the documents of old tell us about the reindeer around Svalbard?

Svalbard reindeer. Photo: Kay Reimer

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21. June 1596

Hier staet noch te bemercken, dat hoewel dit landt dat wy achten Groenlandt te zijn, ligghende op 80. graden ende meer, lover ende gras wast, ende gras eetende dieren op zijn, als Rheden ande andere die haer daer op onthouden

De Veer, G. (1598). Waerachtighe beschryvinghe van drie seylagien, ter werelt noyt soo vreemt ghehoort. (V. Roeper & D. Wildeman, Eds.) (Facsimile 1997). Franeker: Van Wijnen.

It should be noted that in the country we think is Greenland and is over 80 degrees, […] and grass grow. And there are the grass-eating animals there, auch as reindeer and others, who feed on it.

We are not sure if Barentsz and his expedition actually observed living reindeer in Spitsbergen or if they only saw their signs. They do, however, provide the earliest reference to these grazers on the islands. Svalbard reindeer are terribly underrepresented in the historical sources, although they seem to have been hunted extensively quite early on. They were in fact the first animal species to be protected in Svalbard before any of the other game animals.