Friday, June 28, 2013

Reindeer calves on the way to becoming ambassadors

Kacey Capuchino works with a reindeer calf.
A new outreach ambassador is being trained to represent the Reindeer Research Program. No, make that two ambassadors.

After two years without an animal suitable for site visits, RRP now has two three-month-old male calves chomping at the bit to fill this need. The previous emissary, Rip, died two years ago after serving in the role for more than six years. He was well known and loved in schools, elders’ homes and other public facilities.

To kickstart the program, a student intern from California Polytechnic State University, Kacey Capuchino, spent the past two weeks halter breaking the calves. This is Capuchino’s second year as an RRP intern. The animal science major will spend the rest of the summer in Nome working on an exclosure project. She has discovered a very different atmosphere in Alaska. “It’s really interesting and it’s a new perspective,” she said.

“Luckily these calves are pretty good with people and being handled,” Capuchino said. “They are getting used to the halter on their faces and they follow when you lead them with a rope.”

RRP animal caretaker Erin Carr said it helped that the calves spent their formative days in the upper pens and got used to people because hundreds of school children took field trips to the Fairbanks Experiment Farm to see the reindeer and that is the area they visit. “It helped socialize them,” Carr said. “At first we had to throw them lichen but now they will eat out of your hand.”

While the reindeer mothers watch anxiously as their calves are being trained, they seem to understand the little ones aren’t being harmed. “The moms figured out we’re not going to kill their babies and now they don’t mind at all,” Capuchino said.

Capuchino is accustomed to working with horses and cattle and finds the reindeer have different patterns. Horses will back up, cows will take the “not budging” stance but reindeer tend to flop around as a way to resist the halter.

It’s lucky that two of the 14 calves born this spring can be trained, Carr said. One will probably become the star and the other the backup. The RRP gets so many requests for reindeer visits it will be wonderful to be able to meet that need again, hopefully by fall, Carr said. The calves go by numbers now and will receive their monikers in August just like the rest of the calves through the calf naming program. Anyone is welcome to submit suggestions.

George Aguiar shows items that teachers receive when they use the Reindeer Roundup curriculum.
RRP has a curriculum, “Reindeer Roundup!” Teachers who choose to incorporate the material into their classrooms get a kit to help bring the lessons to life, but nothing does the trick like having a reindeer in the classroom. “When you bring in a live reindeer you can’t replace that,” said George Aguiar, research professional. “It’s nice to have that option.”

The program stresses science through animal production and is focused on the unique adaptations that allow reindeer to thrive in the arctic. “It provides real life examples and covers math, history, biology, physiology,” Aguiar said.

“And it’s real life happening in their back yard.”

Carr and Aguiar will continue the training program throughout the summer. If interested in learning more about the curriculum or RRP outreach, Carr can be reached at 907-474-5449.
A reindeer calf learns to be led around the pen.

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