Wildlife in Scotland - the Reindeer of the Cairngorms

Wildlife in Schottland - die Rentiere der Cairngorms
Wildlife in Scotland - the Reindeer of the Cairngorms

Scotland. Where can one find reindeer in Scotland? And how can one see them? Here you learn all about visiting the reindeer in the Cairngorms, the only free-ranging reindeer herd in Scotland. An unforgettable wildlife experience between cute calves and respectable antlers.

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Rentiere der Cairngorms in Schottland - Reindeer Scotland
Reindeer reach a considerable shoulder height of about one meter.

In the middle of Reindeer

Is a reindeer actually aware of how expansive its antlers are? I am not so sure and I prefer not to take the chance. But sometimes escaping is not so easy. About 30 animals mingle between us visitors and follow our guides together with us to a small group of trees.

Rentiere der Cairngorms in Schottland - Reindeer Scotland
Exciting! The first encounter with the reindeer herd.

The reindeer in the Cairngorm Mountains are used to people - and they are easily bribed: When there is food, every reindeer wants to be first. And when there is no more food, some of them take an extra stroke. But this is reserved for our two guides. We visitors are not allowed to feed or pet the reindeer. That is difficult. But even just watching is a very special experience, because rarely can you get so close to reindeer.

Rentiere der Cairngorms in Schottland  - Reindeer Scotland
When there is food, even the smallest ones are right up front.

What is it about reindeer that impresses me so much? They not only brave the subarctic winter of the Cairngorms, but also the Scottish rain. It takes me a little longer to get used to the Scottish rain. And instead of cuddling a wet reindeer, I keep wiping the raindrops off my camera lens. Fortunately the sun comes out later. Unfortunately I wait in vain for the rainbow over the reindeer herd.

Rentiere der Cairngorms in Schottland
Incorruptible...

I quickly found my favorite reindeer: a small albino.Under the white fur his pink skin shimmers out. He even has two small horns already. These are covered with a thin, also white fur. I have rarely seen anything cuter and can hardly get away from the little one.

Rentiere der Cairngorms  - Reindeer Scotland
Is there anything cuter in the world?
Happiness with reindeer. Photo: James Highfill
Rentiere der Cairngorms in Schottland - Reindeer Scotland
Albinos lack color pigments, therefore their fur is white and the skin is pink.
I cannot watch the little albino enough. Photo: James Highfill

Fascination Reindeer

Reindeer have always fascinated me. Not only because they pull the sleigh with the Christmas presents, but because they are traditional way of life of many indigenous peoples are so important. They are also food, warmth and means of transport. In other words, they are the basis of life and life insurance in one. traditional way of life of many indigenous peoples are so important. They are also food, warmth and means of transport.In other words, they are the basis of life and life insurance in one.

Rentiere der Cairngorms in Schottland  - Reindeer Scotland
Reindeer have a short, dark summer-fur and a thick, lighter winter-fur.

Already in the stone-age, reindeer were a sought-after hunt-prey. Then, approximately 5,000 years ago, Siberian peoples began to domesticate the reindeer. Usually, they were used as load and pulling animals. Only in the 17. century, the herd-economybegan. Until today, reindeer herding is still practiced in Lapland, Siberia and Mongolia, mostly semi-nomadic. This means that people follow the semi-wild herds on their migrations to the best grazing grounds. The animals are regularly herded together to mark the calves and select animals for slaughter. In areas with few resources, the reindeer that are killed have been completely utilized:the meat for food, the fur for pelts, the bones and antlers for making tools, and even the blood for healing.

Rentiere der Cairngorms in Schottland
Each reindeer, regardless of sex or age, grows new antlers every year. That of the males is with a length of 50 to 130 centimeters approximately twice as space-grasping as that of the females.

Even though there are fewer and fewer reindeer herds nowadays, they are still closely linked to the traditional indigenous culture. There are reindeer festivals and reindeer races,such as during the Sami Week in Tromsø.Reindeer also play an increasingly important role in tourism. For example, reindeer sleigh rides are offered in wintery Lapland. If you are looking for an even more intense experience and want to get to know the work of the reindeer herders, you will find what you are looking for in Lapland, Russia or Mongolia (by the way, this is high on my travel wish list). Here it is possible to accompany the herders for a while and help to round up the herds.

The reindeer's nostrils are shaped so that the cold air is sufficiently warmed before it reaches the lungs.

Where do Reindeer live?

Northern Hemisphere Tundra and Taiga

Reindeers are the most northern living big mammal species. They live in the tundra and taiga of North America and Eurasia as well as on Greenland, Ellesmere, Svalbard and Wrangel Island.In the east of Iceland lives an introduced reindeer-population. In North America, reindeer are known also under the name Karibu. Reindeers defy low temperatures and find food even in the arctic winter under the snow. Where it is possible, however, they move before the winter into more southern areas and undertake partially up to 5000 kilometers wide migrations.

With its wide, spread hooves, the reindeer can distribute its weight on soft snow and swampy ground so that they don't sink in.

Introduced Species in the Southern Hemisphere

Whalers brought reindeer as living meat-supply on the subarctic island South-Georgia and the Kerguelen on the southern hemisphere. However, the reindeer damaged the vegetation too much and were removed from South Georgia in 2013/14. A population of about 4,000 animals still lives on the Kerguelen Islands.

Reindeer in Scotland

After the end of the last cold period, about 10,000 years ago, the reindeer became extinct in the British Isles. In 1952 the Same Mikel Utsi brought the first reindeer from Sweden to the Cairngorms.The mountains of the Cairngorms in Scotland are the highest, coldest and snowiest plateau in the British Isles. It is the only region in Great Britain that is suitable as a habitat for reindeer.

Rentiere der Cairngorms in Schottland  - Reindeer Scotland
The mountains of the Cairngorms are the only suitable habitat for reindeer in the whole of Great Britain.

The Reindeer of the Cairngorms in Scotland

How did the reindeer come to the Cairngorm Mountains in Scotland? The story begins with the honeymoon of the Sami Mikel Utsi and his wife Dr. Ethel Lindgren. They visited the Cairngorms in 1947. The vegetation, especially the lichens, reminded them of the reindeer pastures in Lapland. An excellent habitat for reindeer!

The natural food of reindeer consists of heather, sedges, lichens and blueberries. In addition, the animals get a supplementary feed on grain basis.

In 1952 the couple brought the first seven reindeer from Sweden to Scotland. Soon more animals followed and excursions to the reindeer herd in the mountains were offered. After the death of Mikel Utsi and his wife, the Smith couple took over the herd in 1988. The Smith already managed the reindeer center before.

Rentiere der Cairngorms in Schottland
Always vigilant.

Today, the herd counts approximately 150 animals. They graze on the mountain peaks and on an additional 6,000 hectares of open land. Further grazing areas are located on the northern slopes of the Cairngorm, where there is also a fenced area. Here, about 50 reindeer live isolated, among other things to give birth to calves.

Rentiere der Cairngorms in Schottland  - Reindeer Scotland
Cute, right? Looks a bit like a cuddly toy.
Rentiere der Cairngorms in Schottland  - Reindeer Scotland
The calves grow fast and are already grazing themselves. Nevertheless, they don't miss a sip of the nutritious mother's milk.

The reindeer spend their whole life in the Cairngorms. In the best case this can be up to 19 years. They are neither sold nor slaughtered for their meat. In order to limit the size of the herd to about 150 animals, the reindeer are bred selectively. Most of the male animals are castrated. The fertile bulls live separated from the herd. To enrich the gene pool and keep the herd healthy, bulls from Sweden are also used for breeding.

Most bulls of the herd are castrated. Even a second look won't help.

Visit of the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre

The reindeer center is located about 11 kilometers from Aviemore,the tourist center of the Cairngorms. There is a small store,an exhibition and paddocks.There are also walks to the mountain meadows of the reindeer herd. For up-to-date information, please check the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre page. Especially during the Corona restrictions, offers and opening hours can change quickly.

The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre with store, exhibition and Christmas sleigh.

Hike to the Mountain Meadows of the Cairngorm Reindeer

Directions to get there: From the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre it is another 1.6 miles by your own vehicle to the starting point of the walk.
Costs: Adults £17.50; Students/Seniors £15; Children 3 years and older £12.50
Times: Until August twice a day at 11am and 2.30pm. From September only once a day at 11 am.
Duration: 1.5 to 2 hours

The access to the fenced area where about 50 reindeer graze.

Tipps für das richtige “Rentier-Outfit”

The tour to the reindeer takes place in any weather, including rain (except extreme wind and snow). Rain jacket and rain pants are part of the basic equipment. After the initial short hike to the reindeer (about 20 minutes, in winter a little longer), there is little movement and the terrain is very exposed. Therefore, depending on the weather, something warm is essential, maybe even a beanie and gloves. But the most important thing are proper shoes: rubber or ankle-high hiking boots.The terrain is partly swampy and you sink in quickly.

And where it is swampy, there are Midges!So if you are lucky with the weather, that means no wind and rain, then pack a mosquito spray. And after that: look for ticks, which unfortunately also occur here.


Do you know the reindeer herd in the Cairngorms in Scotland? Or have you ever been able to experience reindeer at close quarters in another place? Where was that?

Do you have any questions or suggestions about my article? If so, please write me a comment!

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Book Recommendations for Scotland

You want to know where the journey goes? Then I recommend the following travel guides, which have proven themselves on my trip:


Recommendations for further Reading

Do you love reindeer and Lapland as much as I do? Then you might also be interested in my articles about Tromsø and the Lofoten and Vesterålen in winterWe were in Tromsø during the Sami Week and experienced a spectacular reindeer race there. Afterwards we booked an evening reindeer sleigh ride. Kitschy and beautiful under stars and northern lights - but with -20°C damn cold!

Lofoten und Vesterålen - Highlights im Winter
Winter in Tromsø - das Tor zur Arktis

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