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06/01/2016 in Highland Wildlife Park
By Douglas Richardson, Head of Living Collections, RZSS Highland Wildlife Park
Part of my job as the manager of the animal collection at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park involves communicating with my opposite numbers in other zoos and animal collections around the world. The subject matter is normally providing husbandry advice on this or that species, or the movement of animals in and out of the collection (usually breeding loans or donations) as part of coordinated regional and international breeding programmes. I recently received a rather unusual email request.
This email was from a Mr S. Claus requesting a short-term loan of our reindeer for a few days towards the end of December. It would appear that his own herd had “flown off” earlier in the year due to the rather more extensive seasonal disappearance of the polar sea ice in and around his very northerly home and he had set up a new base of operations further south, this time on the mainland. The nature of his work apparently culminates in a period of intense activity over a couple of days towards the end of the year; apparently it varies due to the international dateline.
I usually only deal with licensed, reputable zoological establishments, so in this case I was a bit cautious, especially as we do not put our animals out on short-term loans. Claus detailed his long-standing experience with reindeer going back a few hundred years; I just assumed that the rather long time period on his résumé was a typo or a mistake that slipped through due to the usual over-reliance on spell check.
I informed him that a loan of a couple of males would be the only option I would consider as any females, including those at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park, are possibly pregnant by now and I certainly would not be prepared to cause them any unnecessary stress that such a transport may create. I also told him that as males will very soon be shedding their antlers, this will make their transport easier and safer. This triggered another email which made me doubt his level of reindeer experience. Claus said that his original reindeer did not shed their antlers until spring, and so why were my males out of sync? When I told him that all his former reindeer must have been female as only the females of the species retain their antlers throughout the winter, there was something of a pause in what had been a fairly rapid email exchange.
Eventually he responded and informed me that he normally uses a team of eight or nine and that he would get back to me if he could not find another source that could loan him the whole group in one go. I did not hear back from him so I am assuming he located an alternate source of reindeer.
This piece was first published in the Strathspey & Badenoch Herald