Just like other Scandinavian countries in Northern Europe, Finland has a significant reindeer population. However, unlike in some other parts of the world where they are only seen in the hinterlands, residents in Lapland Finland interact with these horned creatures regularly. Unfortunately, many residents also keep them as pets and beasts of burden. While this is a great sight for locals and visitors, this has led to motor accidents at night, with unsuspecting drivers knocking many off the road.
Thousands of deaths a year
According to a report released back in 2014, a total of 4,000 reindeer deaths caused by auto accidents were recorded. To prevent these ugly occurrences, the Reindeer Herders Association of Finland came up with an idea. The idea was to hang reflectors on their horns to prevent future accidents. Unfortunately, the plan did not work.
Drivers often mistook the antlers to be humans wearing reflectors in the dark. Also, they often predicted, wrongly, that the person in their right of way will move away for them to pass through. Sadly the reflectors were worn by reindeers, not humans, and reindeers do not react to incoming vehicles the way humans would. Rather than run away from the vehicle, they mostly ran towards incoming cars
Spooked by vehicle lights
There are loads of documented pieces of evidence to show that reindeers act irrationally when they see an oncoming vehicle. Some zoologists claim that the light blinds them; others claim it spooks them and throws them into a frenzy. Whatever the case, the deers often tore the reflectors off when they saw cars or ran towards them.
The herder’s association decided to try fluorescents instead, but they did not work either. Their last resort was to try an interactive app to warn drivers of reindeers that have been spotted on the road. The app was not completely successful, but it went a long way to reduce accidents.
A Twist to the tale
The Herders Association trailed the initiative in 2014, but some time later, images began to circulate all over social media and the internet relating the story but with a caricature image of a reindeer with a lighted antler. The misinformation was so effective that many reputable media agencies joined the bandwagon.
The story was true, but the image was not. No one knew where the false image came from, but the association and other concerned residents of Lapland pointed out the error. Fortunately, several media agencies like Reuters published rejoinders rebutting their earlier story.
As cities continue to expand into wildlife regions, human and reindeer interactions are expected to continue. The only thing we can hope for is for conservators and traffic authorities to come up with clever and effective ways to prevent road accidents caused by reminders.