Two hundred reindeer have been found dead from starvation in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard during an annual census of the wild reindeer population, the Norwegian Polar Institute said Monday, pointing the finger at climate change.
Ashild Onvik Pedersen, head of the census, told AFP that “climate change is making it rain much more. The rain falls on the snow and forms a layer of ice on the tundra, making grazing conditions very poor for animals.”
In winter, Svalbard reindeer find vegetation in the snow using their hooves, but alternating freezing and thawing periods can create layers of impenetrable ice, depriving them of nourishment.
According to Onvik Pedersen, a comparable death toll has only been recorded once before since monitoring started 40 years ago.
But the increased mortality is also due in part to a significant increase in the number of reindeer in the Norwegian archipelago, which is itself partly thanks to the warmer summers caused by climate change.
Since the 1980s, the number of reindeer has doubled in Svalbard, and now stands at around 22,000, according to the Norwegian Polar Institute.