A new conservation study conducted by a team of researchers from China revealed that the world's reindeer population is dangerously declining, Discovery News reported.
Reindeer are found in different parts of the country but the researchers focused their attention on China since the country holds the biggest reindeer population in the world. However, the researchers noted that the animal's population there had already decreased by 28 percent since the 1970s.
According to the researchers, led by conservationist Xiuxiang Meng, China's reindeer population originated from Siberia after herders known as the Ewenki tribe migrated to the country 2000 years ago.
Although they did not domesticate the animals, the Ewenki guided their roaming habits and used their meat and other byproducts for their basic needs, Live Science has learned.
In the study, the researchers mentioned a number of factors that are endangering the reindeer population.
The first is the ongoing activity of poachers hunting the animals for their antlers. Another factor listed by the researchers is inbreeding. Since the reindeer in China roam in relatively small groups, their mating options are limited. Due to the lack of genetic variation, the offspring of the animals are weak and unable to survive the wild conditions.
Meng and his team also explained that the effect of modernization on the Ewenki tribe is one of the factors behind the decline of the reindeer population. Many of its members abandoned the tribe's traditional practice of herding to pursue other careers.
Due to the lack of herders, the reindeer are oftentimes left unprotected from predators and poachers. Currently, there are only 33 Ewenki herders in China.
In order to save the reindeer population, Meng called on the Chinese government to establish natural parks to protect the animals. He also urged the International Union for Comservation of Nature (IUCN) to update its information regarding the status of the reindeer and spread awareness regarding their decline.
"The semi-domesticated [reindeer] population in China, Mongolia and Russia - and especially China = should be given enough concern by the IUCN Red List," Meng told Discovery News.
"Our survey showed that the reindeer in China comprise the southernmost reindeer population in the world, which is so important to the distribution and conservation of reindeer worldwide," he added.