Seeing is Believing 

Real reindeer have made the Phoenix Zoo their home for the holidays! These reindeer are visiting from Windswept Ranch in California, so they are already well-acclimated to Phoenix’s “winter” climate.

Their “village” is now open and guests can get an up-close view of them during the day (9 a.m. – 4 p.m.) as well as at ZooLights!

Along with “magical” photo ops during ZooLights (6 – 9 p.m.), guests will be able to learn more about these fascinating and unique animals through January 13. 

We have three adults (Frosty, Snowflake and Velvet) along with an adorable young female named Noel! 

  • Photos
  • Reindeer 101
  • FAQs

Family Cervidae comprises as many as 38 species in 16 genera of deer and includes muntjacs, water deer, elk, moose, pudu, and more, such as the reindeer or caribou. The common names reindeer and caribou are synonymous; the species may be called reindeer in Europe and Asia and caribou or reindeer in North America.

Reindeer differ in body and antler size. Males (bulls) stand about 4-5 feet high at the shoulders and may weigh over 600 pounds and reach lengths of 6 feet. Females (cows) weigh about 300 pounds. Reindeer are the only deer species with a “hairy nose pad,” with no naked patch on the nose as in other deer, perhaps to help warm the frigid air they breathe.

Reindeer are also the only deer species in which antlers occur in both sexes. With the largest antler mass relative to body size of any deer, adult male reindeer have larger and more elaborate antlers than females, with spreads up to 5 feet across. The antlers are branched with a tendency for palmate or flattened top points or tines with flattened and forward pointing “brow” tines at the base of antlers. Antler size and the number of tines (points) are a function of nutritional condition, genetic factors, and age; however, there is little correlation between individual age and the number of antler points.

Antlers are used by males to engage in ritualized sparring matches with rival males as a test of strength. Females’ antlers serve them well in defending food resources by chasing away yearling males that attempt to take over holes dug in the snow by the females to get at lichens. Antlers grow directly from the skull and initially grow within a sensitive, highly vascularized skin called velvet. The antlers finish growth and turn to solid bone in about 140 days at which time the velvet begins to dry and crack. It is rubbed off against small shrubs and trees to remove it. Males shed their antlers after mating season in early winter; females in late spring. Shedding occurs when a layer of bone-dissolving cells invades the base of the antlers, weakening their attachment to the skull until they drop off. It takes several months to grow a new set of antlers.

In the short summer season, reindeer/caribou browse on grasses, leaves, shoots, herbs and roots when available. In the late fall and winter, they may migrate to areas where they can dig through the snow for lichens and other vegetation.

Reindeer are listed as “vulnerable” and there has been a 40% decline of wild populations across the circum-Arctic countries over the previous 10-25 years. Habitat degradation/loss and disruption of traditional migratory patterns due to expanding infrastructure and petroleum drilling are contributors to the decline. Climate change will bring extreme changes to habitat. With the worldwide decline of wolves and other natural predators, humans are the major factor in the species decline.

Are they hot?

Deer don’t have sweat glands like you and I do. Panting is heat exchange in place of the cooling system sweat glands would offer, just like a dog would do. We make sure they always have access to shade and cool water to drink.

Why are they lying down?

It is normal for reindeer to lay and rest for multiple hours a day. It actually is a good sign that shows they are comfortable in their environment. The keepers offer them various type of enrichment to keep them occupied throughout the day.

Is their ZooLights home big enough?

Our reindeer are only here for a short visit before returning to their ranch. Reindeer only travel long distances when in search of food or water. Since they have everything they need here, they are quite comfortable to hang around their companions. Reindeer are very social by nature and enjoy the company of other reindeer and their caretakers.

Where did they come from?

Our reindeer are visiting from Windswept Ranch in Tehachapi. There you can visit them all year round.