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UAF asks for help naming newborn reindeer at Experiment Farm

Ben Anderson
Reindeer 1302, the UAF Reindeer Research Program’s newest addition, stands next to his mother Tuesday, April 2, 2013. JR Ancheta photo

The first newborn reindeer of the year has arrived at the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Experiment Farm, and staffers are asking the public for help in naming the wobbly baby ungulate.

The Reindeer Research Program at UAF manages the reindeer herd at the farm. Of the 66 animals in the herd before babies started dropping, 36 were pregnant females. Dubbed just "1302" at the moment, the baby reindeer was born on March 30, about a week earlier than research staffers typically expect newborns. Greg Finstad, program manager with the Reindeer Research Program, said the calf was healthy despite its early arrival.

"It wasn’t premature, it was a fully formed calf," Finstad said. "It was about average weight ... maybe a little bit small. We usually don’t expect our calves to start hitting the ground until about April 7 or 8. I think this is the first one we’ve had born in March."

Weighing in at 14 pounds, the male calf was quickly tagged.

"Reindeer Research Program staff members note that they generally give the mother and calf 12 to 24 hours to form a strong bond before they tag and weigh the newborn," a release from the university said. "If they process the calf too soon, they risk the cow abandoning her calf. If they wait too long, the calf becomes extremely mobile and it could be stressful to catch it for tagging and weighing. By late summer or early fall, when the calves have been weaned from their mothers, they receive names."

The rest of the calves will follow soon, as reindeer are synchronous calvers, meaning they all give birth around the same time, which can mitigate the number of calves that fall victim to predation.

The program is asking for the public's help in naming the new calves, and it has set up a website where schoolchildren can submit possible monikers. So far, UAF reports, only three male names (JoJo, Joey and Keith) and three female names (Fuji, Jesi and Gertrude) have been submitted.

Finstad said that they've gotten some unusual nominations over the years, including George Bush and lately Obama.  He said staff, who interact with the animals on a regular basis and get to know the animals personalities, sometimes go off-script and give the animals names based on that.

Don't get too attached, though. The primary function of the reindeer farm is for use in nutritional studies, meaning the reindeer eventually get harvested for their meat. In that sense, it's like any livestock farm.

"That’s the message that we like to put out there, that they’re livestock and we’re hoping reindeer will become the primary foundation of our meat industry in Alaska," Finstad said.

Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com