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Flight by feral reindeer Rangifer tarandus tarandus in response to a directly approaching human on foot or on skis

Reimers, Eigil, Miller, Frank L., Eftestøøl, Sindre, Colman, Jonathan E., Dahle, Bjøørn
Wildlife biology 2006 v.12 no.4 pp. 403-413
Rangifer tarandus caribou, autumn, feral animals, group size, humans, reindeer, relief (geological), sport hunting, spring, summer, wind, winter, Norway
Increasing outdoor activities by humans could negatively influence reindeer and caribou Rangifer tarandus populations. We recorded the behaviour of feral reindeer R. t. tarandus when a person directly approached them on foot or on skis in Forolhogna, Norway, during March, July and September––October 1996. The farther away the person was when first sighted, the greater the distance the reindeer group fled. The distance the reindeer moved away in response to the approaching person was greatest in July and least in September––October during autumn rut and shortly after the hunting season closed. In September––October rutting activities affected reindeer behaviour more than the disturbance caused by the directly approaching human. Both the distance at which the reindeer group responded by flight and the distance they moved away decreased with increasing group size. Upon flight, when all escape options were available, reindeer more often escaped uphill and into the wind than along level ground, downhill, down wind or crossways to the wind. All reindeer in a group moved towards the approaching human before taking final flight during 50%% of 82 disturbance events, the closest approach was within 43 m in March, 24 m in July, and 13 m in September––October. No reindeer group responded by flight when the approaching human was still > 310 m away in March, > 351 m in July, and > 180 m in September––October. In relation to the current level of human activity in the area, our observations indicate no serious negative consequences for the reindeer following disturbance from a directly approaching human, not even shortly after the hunting season.