The iconic reindeer is in peril, according to a new study analyzing population trends in China. While their numbers have been in decline for decades, dropping by at least 28% since the 1970s, the rate of decline has increased dramatically since 1998, reports UPI. The study, published in the Journal for Nature Conservation, puts the number of reindeer in the "Arctic region of China" at 773; the 1970s peak was 1,080. The researchers point to six factors contributing to the sinking numbers there: inbreeding, poaching, natural predators, lack of herders and breeders, climate change, and changes in the tourism industry. Another researcher adds disease to the list.
They say the IUCN Red List Data on reindeer is out of date; the animals are still listed under their 2008 classification as being of "least concern." The China population is the southernmost in the world, reports Discovery News, and that designation makes it especially "important to the distribution and conservation of reindeer worldwide," says the lead author. The researchers would like to see China establish nature reserves and parks within the animals' natural habitat as a conservation method. (One way reindeer are better coping with climate change in the Arctic? Castration.)