More than 200 reindeer starved to death on the Norwegian island of Svalbard, where climate change has disrupted the animals’ access to edible plants.
Every year, ecologists with the Norwegian Polar Institute survey reindeer populations on the island. This year, they discovered that the reindeer population had declined and that hundreds of carcasses showed signs of starvation. The surviving reindeer also showed signs of malnutrition.
The NPI concluded that heavy rainfall in December is responsible for the high number of reindeer deaths. As this rainfall is uncommon, the NPI says it’s the result of climate change.
When the rain hit the ground, it froze, preventing reindeer from accessing the vegetation that makes up their diets. This forced the animals to eat the less nutritious seaweed and kelp that they could dig up along shorelines.
With warmer temperatures coming to Svalbard due to climate change, scientists believe December rainfall may become the norm.