Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Pair of juvenile reindeer escape for mini-migration

Photo by Rindi White
A reindeer grazes at the Williams Reindeer
Farm in October.

Caribou are on the move around Alaska and, this week, a pair of domesticated reindeer that had been recently relocated to a home off Trunk Road staged their own little mini-migration.

But these little deer weren’t looking for winter browse; the pair of 6-month-old reindeer wanted to find their herd. 

Williams Reindeer Farm manager Denise Hardy (she’s a Williams by birth, a Hardy by marriage) said the pair were two of nine weaned reindeer sold to families in Fairbanks, Southcentral and the Kenai Peninsula for 4Hers to raise and tame.

They are generally hauled to their new homes in August but another project kept the young reindeer at the farm until this week. On Monday the Trunk Road family took their pair of bucks home. On Tuesday they escaped.

So while many were awaiting election updates, Hardy and her crew were driving through neighborhoods looking for the reindeer. She said the pair apparently got split up after making their escape. One made it all the way to Sears on the Seward-Meridian Parkway before returning to his new family’s yard. The other headed south to Mat-Su Regional Medical Center and the Parks Highway.

“We kept getting calls from people, that there’s a reindeer running down the new Trunk Road, or there’s a reindeer near the hospital,” Hardy said.

She said a Mat-Su Borough Animal Care and Regulation officer successfully roped that deer and brought it safely back to its new family, but not before the deer had crossed Parks Highway a few times.

Hardy said she was amazed that the other reindeer made it back to its new owner’s yard after its little trek to Sears.

“He hadn’t even been there 24 hours and he still managed to get back there,” she said.

“They are domesticated deer. They were born on our farm and they’ve always been around other animals on the farm. We hoped that they would find a farm and just hang out there,” she said.

Reindeer occasionally get out on the farm, Hardy said. But being herd animals, they don’t venture far.

“They run around the fence and try to figure out how to get back in. When these poor little guys were transported to a whole new area, they were just trying to get back to their herd,” she said.

The pair of bucks made it back home safely – the one that traveled to Sears was skittish but eventually boarded a trailer that Ernie, a friendly 7-year-old neutered male reindeer from the younger bucks’ herd, was in. Hardy had brought the elder deer along to help calm and lure the juveniles – a strategy that paid off.

Hardy said the pair are adjusting to their new home in the trailer, with Ernie’s company for now. Soon they’ll be learning how to walk on a halter with their new owners and, by next summer, will likely be trotting around a show ring at the Alaska State Fair. Raising and showing reindeer is becoming more popular, Hardy said. Four were at the fair this year; three from the Williams farm and one from another reindeer farm. With nine being groomed for the fair next year, chances are competition is going to be tough.

In related news, the Reindeer Farm held its second round of Halloween Fun events this year, with a hay bale maze, haunted barn, country hoe-down, pony rides, pumpkin patch and more. People from all over the area descended on the farm each Saturday in October for fall fun. Hardy said a Christmas celebration is planned as well, with hay rides, singing, tours of the reindeer herd and visits with Santa. It's scheduled for Dec. 21 through 24. For more information about the event, check out the farm's events page.

-- Rindi White

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