Don’t worry about those teeth
You’d have to be hopelessly careless to get bitten when feeding the reindeer, our guide tells us. They are gentle creatures, and their lichen-grinding teeth are way back in their mouths. As for the huge antlers on both sexes, they are padded with fuzzy skin that’s shedding this time of year. The males lose their antlers earlier in the year, so the females enjoy a period of pushing them around.
As we tourists tramp across their scrubby hillside, the grazing and napping reindeer rouse themselves to compete for the daily kibble.
Richard has been here before, in the 1970s, after a distant cousin from Illinois, Ethel Lindgren, and her husband from Lapland, Mikel Utsi, had brought reindeer back to the Scottish Highlands near Aviemore. Since Richard’s visit, Lindgren and Utsi have died, but their Cairngorm Reindeer Centre continues to tend reindeer, including this herd — on a former clan estate, now the Glenmore Forest Park — at Aviemore, south of Inverness.
When tourism falls off in winter, teams of the tame deer in their warm winter coats hire out for Yuletide sleigh duty across Britain. You can adopt a reindeer for 34 pounds U.K. a year, paid through PayPal. The proprietors mention discreetly that reindeer meat is delicious.
The pink-cheeked lass (above) is a tourist, not a prop.
The guide tells us this species, called caribou in America, has extra-large feet for walking in snow, and both sexes grow antlers, unique as fingerprints, that fall off and regenerate every year in much the same shape only more so.
My feeding goes well until I run out of kibble. One individual doesn’t seem to understand the universal “empty hands” signal and pursues as I retreat. It soon becomes clear that he wants my body — as a scratching post for shedding the itchy antler skin. Trees are nearly nonexistent in this grazing area.