Cairngorm Reindeer centre’s summer arrivals

Picture: Peter Jolly
Picture: Peter Jolly
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JUST hours old a new born reindeer struggles to stand in the snow - a normal scene perhaps in Lapland in Christmas but one that is not expected in Scotland at the end of May.

In a scene that is only missing Santa and his sleigh, Britain’s only free ranging herd of reindeer have welcomed five new arrivals this week - bringing the total to 14 this month - the main calving time for the animal.

Picture: Peter Jolly

Picture: Peter Jolly

But instead of taking their first steps on lush spring grass, this year’s calves have had to negotiate several inches of snow and plunging temperatures.

The herd at the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre started as a serious conservation exercise by Mikel Utsi, a real Sami, and his American wife Dr Ethel Lingren.

They visited wild, upland Scotland and saw it as similar to the reindeer habitat of Sweden.

Wild reindeer in Scotland were hunted to extinction around AD1200 and so a reintroduction programme was started.

Picture: Peter Jolly

Picture: Peter Jolly

Even with Utsi’s knowledge of reindeer, there were veterinary problems, but he persisted.

Now, 61 years later, the herd is flourishing in the Cairngorms and Cromdale Hills.

The herd has grown in numbers over the years and is currently held at between 130 and 150 by controlling breeding. Four stud bulls, imported from Sweden, make sure the bloodline remains pure.

The reindeers are also used at Christmas by stores such as Harrods for festive events.

Alan and Tilly Smith and their daughter Fiona manage the Scottish reindeer on 6000 acres around the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre at Glenmore.

And the latest arrivals - with a similar amount still due - have delighted the centre.

“They were born in their winter coats so the weather has not disturbed them too much,” said Fiona, 26.

“They will be feeding off mum for five to six months and will stay with her for a year.

“I know every single one of them by sight - they all have different personalities and characters.

“We expect about 75-80 percent of the calves to survive - it is the survival of the fittest. So it is only when they return from their free range roaming in September do they get named.

“We have called each year by different themes - like after colours, cakes, biscuits and puddings. I don’t know what this year’s theme will be yet.

“They are all special in their own way with their lovely little natures.”

The reindeer will breed at around three years old and live to between 12-14 years.