Reflecting on Reindeer

Kieran Lindsey

Kieran Lindsey | Jan 27, 2016

The Reindeer Herders’ Association (RHA) wants to make their animals more visible to Finland’s motorists, preventing vehicle damage and injuries (or worse) to both humans and non-humans. Not through selective breeding for shiny noses—Rudolph’s mutation doesn't seem to have been passed down to future generations—but by spraying them with reflective paint.

"This is one of the most creative approaches to the vehicle-ungulate road-sharing problem I’ve seen." (Finland Reindeer Herders' Association)

This is one of the most creative approaches to the vehicle-ungulate road-sharing problem I’ve seen. In 2014, the RHA tested two types of reflective paint on 20 reindeer—one for the fur that washes away over time, and a permanent coating for the antlers (although, unlike horns, antlers are shed annually so “permanent” does not mean a once-per-lifetime application).

The paint glows when hit by a headlight beam but should not put the reindeer at greater risk of detection by non-mechanical predators.

Reindeer predators typically do not carry lights. (Francis C. Franklin)

Herding reindeer is big business in Finland, and the animals are culturally important as well. “Lapland wouldn’t be Lapland without reindeer,” Anne Ollila, head of the RHA, explains.

A 1,200 mile-long fence has been constructed around the grazing area perimeter but the animals are not intensively managed and sometimes they wander onto highways. Between 3,000 and 5,000 reindeer-vehicle accidents occur in Finland every year, primarily during the long, dark winters. That’s a significant figure for a country with approximately 200,000 reindeer and a human population of just over 5 million (July 2014 estimate).

The initial test revealed problems with the fur application but the antler treatment was successful enough to warrant a second phase of testing on 400 reindeer during the 2015 fall roundup.

Caution: Hold 6" from surface, use in well ventilated area, do not apply to fur.

It’s natural to assume this method would be equally applicable to related species in other parts of the world. But before you invest the nest egg in a reflective paint startup, keep in mind that Finland’s reindeer are semi-domesticated and will stand still for a touch-up from a hissing spray paint can. Wild deer, elk, moose, and caribou are far less cooperative.

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