In keeping with the holiday season, two male reindeer are on view at the Zoo through January 1, 2018.

Antlers or Horns?

Reindeer are the only deer species in which both males and females sport antlers. People sometimes call antlers “horns,” but the two are very different. Horns are protein, like fingernails and hair, and are never shed. Antlers are like bone and shed every year.


  • Was born at Windswept Ranch in April 2017
  • Has dark fur, a white splotch on his nose
  • Has thin, spindly antlers
  • Is a young “wild child” according to his keepers at Windswept Ranch
  • Favorite food is graham crackers


  • Was born at Windswept Ranch in April 2013
  • Is larger and lighter in color, and has a “mane” of hair on his chest
  • Has a large rack of antlers with some “velvet” still clinging on
  • Is confident and like a big brother to Lightning

Reindeer or Caribou?

An old joke goes like this: “What’s the difference between a reindeer and a caribou?” The answer? “Reindeer fly!” The two are actually subspecies of the same species. Location also defines them. Caribou are wild reindeer that live only in North America and Greenland. Reindeer refers to wild populations in Europe and Asia, and to all of the species in human care worldwide.

Rudolph is…a Girl?

The story of flying reindeer pulling Santa Claus’s sleigh is an American creation, probably based on traditions brought here by immigrants from Europe and Scandinavia, where domesticated reindeer pulled sleds and sleighs. The eight-reindeer flying team was made famous when Clement Clark Moore’s poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (“’Twas the Night Before Christmas”) was published in the Troy Sentinel in 1823. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer debuted 116 years later, in 1939, when department store Montgomery Ward published Robert May’s verse in a book to give to children at Christmas time. Male reindeer usually lose their large antlers in early December, while the females keep them longer. That means that Rudolph and the rest of Santa’s flying crew just might be female!

Suited for the Snow

Reindeer and caribou have two “toes” on each foot, which spread out and act like snowshoes to keep them from sinking into snow, soft ice, and wetlands. Back “dew claws” add traction, and help keep animals from slipping when they run. The undersides of the hooves are hollow, allowing the animals to dig through snow in search of food. Listen carefully when the reindeer walk to hear a “click, click, click.”  It’s not their hooves, but a tendon that snaps over their ankles. The sound may help keep the herd together in blinding snowstorms.

Skip the Wrapping Paper

Get creative with concealing presents this year: use recycled wrapping paper, cloth bags, newspaper, or cookie tins instead of buying new paper gift wrap rolls. Reducing the demand for paper saves old-growth forest habitats in reindeer and caribou territory, which is the only source of food for most animals that overwinter in the north.

Lightning and Holiday are on loan from Windswept Ranch, located in the foothills above Antelope Valley near Tehachapi, California. The facility is home to a collection of animals including camels, llamas, zebra, alpacas, sheep, goats, horses, deer, and reindeer. Many of the animals have been rescued or rehabilitated. For more information, visit the Windswept Ranch website.