You probably know that reindeer are not native to Iceland; they were actually brought to the country in the 18th century. Since then, they have done well for themselves, flourishing to such an extent that it’s not uncommon to encounter them in the East iceland countryside and have to stop for a small herd blithely milling about on the Ring Road.
However, one part of the country where you won’t see them is in the West. Why? We asked Sigríður Birna Björnsdóttir, a specialist at the Reykjavík Park & Zoo, for the truth of the matter.
“While early attempts have been made to promote the reindeer populations in other parts of Iceland, it was only in the East where they really thrived. The reason for this is deceptively simple: the East just has everything reindeer could ask for. This is especially the case on account of the moss which grows plentifully in the East.
Reindeer travel in herds and have a large range that spans from the northeast of the country all the way down to Höfn in the southeast. In the winter, when food is more scarce in regions with higher elevation, the reindeer will descend to lower elevations in search of food. This is why you will often see them by or even on the highway (so be careful when driving in the East). Although they are hunted, the annual quota is strictly limited, meaning reindeer are not especially shy about human contact. It would probably be a good idea and not disturb them anyway; just enjoy their beauty as you drive slowly by and take photos.”
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