Nearly 200 reindeer found dead due to starvation caused by climate change, scientists claim

Nearly 200 reindeer were found starved to death in Norway's archipelago of Svalbard, and scientists are blaming climate change. 

Three researchers from the Norwegian Polar Institute, a scientific agency under Norway's Ministry of Climate and Environment, came across the carcasses of the deer while conducting an annual census of the wild reindeer on the archipelago, according to the Guardian. Scientists believe the deer died last winter. 

Ashild Onvik Pedersen, one of the researchers, told the newspaper that the unusual number of deaths was due to the climate crisis, which has reportedly impacted the Arctic — where Svalbard is located — twice as much as anywhere else. Since 1971, temperatures at Svalbard specifically have risen by a whopping 39 degrees Fahrenheit, which is five times faster than the global average, the Guardian revealed earlier this month. 

"Climate change is making it rain much more," Pedersen said. "The rain falls on the snow and forms a layer of ice on the tundra, making grazing conditions very poor for animals." 

During the winter, reindeer in Svaldbard normally use their hooves to find vegetation beneath the snow, but the layer of impenetrable ice resulting from climate change has made it difficult for the animals to do so. An increase in the number of reindeer on the archipelago — there are now approximately 22,000 deer — has also led to competition in the same grazing areas, the Guardian reports. 

Over the past 20 years, the Arctic has lost nearly 2.6 million reindeer overall, according to the 2018 Arctic Report Card from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The animal's population currently stands at about 2.1 million, a huge drop from the 4.7 million that was recorded in the mid-1990s. 

Though the decline can partly be attributed to predators and forage availability, the NOAA's report notes that "subsequent warmer summers also have adverse effects through increased drought, flies and parasites, and perhaps heat stress leading to increased susceptibility to pathogens and other stressors."

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