Articles

Designing Safer Antlers for Finland’s Reindeers

by Allison Meier on February 19, 2014

Reindeer with reflective antlers

Reindeer with reflective antlers (photograph by Anne Ollila, via Yle)

Would this spooky reindeer that seems to have transported from some unearthly netherworld stop you in your tracks? That’s the hope of the Finnish Reindeer Herders’ Association which is trying out coating reindeer antlers in reflective paint to help reduce its huge reindeer vs. car problem.

Reindeer with reflective antlers

Reindeer with reflective antlers (photograph by Anne Ollila, via Yle) (click to view larger)

As AFP reports, there are annually between 3,000 and 5,000 car accidents in Finland that involve reindeer. Part of the issue is that large groups of reindeer roam without restriction in the Lapland region where they are herded by the Sami people. Most of these accidents occur during November and December when the area up along the Arctic Circle is engulfed in darkness that just ends with low daylight for a few hours.

The reflective antlers would gleam phantasmagorically only when a car approached — the added eye eeriness is the naturally occurring reflectiveness of the animal’s retinas.

The Sami news publication Yle quotes from Anne Ollila, the executive director of the Reindeer Herders’ Association:

“The goal is specifically to prevent road accidents. The spray is being tried on their fur, but it is maybe more effective on their antlers because the reflection can be seen in every direction.”

So it could also be whole illuminated ghost reindeer suddenly manifested from the Finnish night. However, according to the Telegraph, a reflective spray has already been tested by Sami herders in Norway, “but it reduced the fur’s ability to keep out the chill.” Presumably since their antlers are deciduous the reflective material is less hazardous that way for the animals.

The problem with creature collisions is of course not limited to Lapland, and other Scandinavian countries face similar trouble with the dark season and their hooved residents. In the north of Norway, an estimated 315 people were injured from 2005 to 2011 in accidents that involved elk. After trying out fences and motion-detecting devices, last fall the country debuted “elk disco poles” similar to LED poles used in Austria. As Henrik Wildenschild of the area’s roads administration told the Guardian, the solar-powered poles “react to car headlights and emit a high-pitched, rhythmic sound and flash LED lights in blue and yellow to frighten elk away.”

Wildlife overpass in along the Trans-Canada Highway in Banff National Park (photograph by Adam Fagen, via Flickr)

Wildlife overpass along the Trans-Canada Highway in Banff National Park (photograph by Adam Fagen, via Flickr)

Earlier this year, a proposal was also made in Norway to widely attach biodegradable reflective cuffs to reindeer antlers, a technique they’ve been testing since 2010, the Local reported. Other recent prevention designs include one last year from Morgan Graham with the Conservation Research Center of Teton Science Schools in Wyoming. It involved a pattern of red reflectors that would create infrared flashes when a car passed that could be seen by deer to startle them from crossing at that moment, but stay invisible to drivers. Meanwhile in places like Canada’s Banff National Park and the highways of the Netherlands, wildlife overpasses have been constructed to offer road crossings to deer and other animals above the motorized traffic.

As urban development continues to flow into the paths of wildlife, more of these seemingly strange animal “hacks” may soon appear. So don’t have a heart attack if one inky evening you are cruising down the highway and suddenly the form of a reindeer appears like a specter in the night.

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  • ThePear

    Glowing red noses are the only logical solution to this problem.

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