Reindeer at risk from new extreme snow sport
Wild reindeer may face a new threat from the extreme sport of snow-kiting, a study has found.
Scientists modelled reindeer's fright responses to both snow-kiting and skiing in an alpine area of south Norway.
They found that reindeer were more afraid of snow-kiters because of the airborne kite.
The study recommends that controls are put on the sport to prevent harm to wild reindeer.
Snow-kiting is a new sport, similar to kite-surfing, in which the rider wears skis and is pulled along by a kite.
It is thought to be one of the fastest-growing recreational sports in Norway.
Amid growing concern among wildlife managers and politicians the study, which is published in the journal of Applied Animal Behaviour Science, assessed the potential effect of this activity on wild reindeer in the alpine area of Norefjell-Reinsjøfjell.
Scientists conducted experiments in which the reindeer were confronted by an approaching skier or snow-kiter.
They gathered data on the animals' reactions, such as distance from the skier or snow-kiter when the reindeer fled, how far they ran and how long the fright response lasted.
Using this information, the scientists were able to predict the likely effects of an increasing number of skiers and snow-kiters on the reindeer population.
Snow-kites are visible over long distances
They found that habitat and feeding time would decrease by up to 7.5% if the number of skiers reached 105. At that point, the reindeer would seek refuge away from the ski trails.
But in the case of snow-kiters, that reduction could be as high as 100% if the number of snow-kiters reached 241 travelling at 8.8km per hour, or 111 snow-kiters travelling at 20km per hour.
In addition, scientists observed that the size and airborne nature of the kite "was more frightening for the reindeer" than the presence of a skier.
Long fright responses by reindeer towards snow-kiters mean the sport could have "very negative population consequences" on the animals, according to the study.
Because of the greater range of a snow-kiter, as well as the kite's visibility over long distances, interactions with reindeer populations may also be more frequent for snow-kiting than for other alpine sports.
The research also recommended that ski trails are carefully planned and managed to minimise the combined effect of the two sports on reindeer.
There are currently no restrictions on the use of snow-kites in Norway.