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Wild About Utah: Hot on the trail of reindeer in Utah

I first time I came face to face with a living, breathing reindeer was a few weeks ago at the Reindeer Express hosted by Utah State University vet students. Two vets from the Mt. West Animal Hospital near Provo had brought two of their reindeer with them to Cache Valley and were standing by to answer our questions.

The first thing I learned was that both male and female reindeer grow a new set of antlers every year. The antlers are solid bone and can weigh up to 15 pounds. The males usually drop their antlers in Nov after the mating season, while the females keep theirs a few months longer - until after they drop their calves in the Spring.

A vet student chimed in. He said reindeer losing their antlers looks a lot like us losing a baby tooth. The antlers get a little wobbly and simply fall off. The reindeer just keeps grazing.

Now I was hot on the trail of reindeer in Utah. I went to the Ogden City Christmas Square to meet Bluebell from the Rockin Reindeer Farm near Ogden. As admirers were taking pictures, Bluebell’s owner told me that watching the antlers regrow could be pretty exciting. Every morning you could get up and easily see how the antlers had grown another inch overnight.

I also learned if you listened closely, you could hear a clicking when the reindeer walked. The first time they heard it, they thought something was terribly wrong. But all reindeer click when the tendon in their leg slides over a bone. Clicking seems to be a way for the herd to find each other in white-out winter weather.

Another adaptation to intense cold is the hair that covers every reindeer’s nose This helps keep it warm in the reindeers natural habitat in the far north.

I can trace my own fascination with reindeer to my childhood days when my father arranged for a friend of his to dress up as Santa and personally deliver a big white sack full of presents to our house. The fact that Santa rang our doorbell didn’t strike me as odd since we didn’t have a chimney.

One Christmas Eve I was talking all day about how I would soon get to meet Santa’s reindeer. When the doorbell rang, I rushed to open the door. There was Santa with his big white sack. No reindeer. “Where are the reindeer?” I asked. “I left them down the street,” Santa said. “Let’s go see them after we open the presents. “ That did the trick. I forgot all about the reindeer.

But now that I’m older and wiser, I know that most male reindeer drop their antlers in November, while the females keep theirs a few more months. So the odds are very, very good that the Santa that rang my doorbell was driving an all-female dream team.

Mary got hooked on oral histories while visiting Ellis Island and hearing the recorded voices of immigrants that had passed through. StoryCorps drew her to UPR. After she retired from teaching at Preston High, she walked into the station and said she wanted to help. Kerry put her to work taking the best 3 minutes out of the 30 minute interviews recorded in Vernal. Passion kicked in. Mary went on to collect more and more stories and return them to the community on UPR's radio waves. Major credits to date: Utah Works, One Small Step, and the award winning documentary Ride the Rails.