Santa’s Magical Wildlife: What if He Couldn’t Use Reindeer?

With Christmas coming up, we can’t help but think about one of the most famous animals of Christmas, the reindeer. Reindeer, called caribou in North America, are only found in Alaska and small parts of Idaho and Washington in the United States. A recent study on the reindeer of the Norwegian Island of Svalbard revealed that they have shrunk by 12% over the last 20 years, which has been linked to global warming. In the last few winters, it has rained more often, freezing a layer of ice over the snow which prevents reindeer from accessing the plants below. Females get less nutrition during gestation, and thus produce smaller calves.

This made us think: what if reindeer continue to shrink, and Santa needs a new magic animal to pull his sled? Using some creative math, we came up with a few different species that could fill in…and how many Santa would need to pull his mighty sleigh.

We know that real reindeer weigh on average 270 pounds and can pull approximately twice their weight. Given that it takes 9 magic reindeer to pull Santa’s sleigh (Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen and Rudolph), we used this “magic factor” to approximate the number of other wildlife species that could take their place if needed.

So grab some cocoa and imagine a few new wildlife helpers — and know if there’s ever a magic reindeer shortage, they’ve got us covered!

Grizzly Bears

Grizzly bears
A grizzly bear family. Photo via Pixabay

Grizzly bears can lift quite a heavy load, and are thus a top choice for reducing the quantity of sleigh-pullers. Plus, they’ll be able to protect Santa and his wares should any attackers try to thwart their journey. Using the magic factor, Santa would require 5 magic grizzly bears to pull his sleigh, making them an efficient replacement option, should the need arise.


While doing a sabbatical in the Middle East I took a road trip from Amman to Petra. Driving in the Jordanian desert isn't much different from driving in the California desert, except for the camels along the road.
Camels in the Jordanian desert. Photo by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Diann Stewart

A worthy contender, the camel is well-known for carrying cargo and people across the harsh deserts of North Africa and Asia (although prehistoric camels actually evolved in North America and spread to Asia via the Bering land bridge). Seeing as they are adapted to long, arduous journeys in rough climates, the camel is a noble choice to pull the magical sleigh. From National Geographic’s estimate of a camel’s carrying strength, we estimate that Santa would need around 10 magical camels on Christmas Eve to complete his rounds.


Common Dolphins jumping.
Common Dolphins jumping. Photo by Brandon Cole

Picture this: a sunglasses-clad Santa commands a bevy of dolphins to pull his magical sleigh, slicing through the ocean waves at lightning speed. Based on the ability of dolphins to pull adult humans through the water, we calculated that Santa would need 27 magic dolphins to pull his water sleigh.

Bald Eagles

Watching this beautiful bird (eagle) attempt to catch fish by sweeping widely over ocean, spotting a fish and catching with his talons. Sometimes it required more than one attempt.
Bald eagle flying. Photo by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Lynda Bare

Bald eagles are one of the strongest birds, able to lift a 15-lb mule deer off the ground. Using this calculation, if Santa were to hire a natural flyer to fly him and his sack of presents, he would need to round up around 324 magic bald eagles! While a difficult task, it was made easier by the recovery efforts that have kept the bald eagle off the endangered species list since 2007.

Leafcutter Ants

Leafcutter ants showing off their strength. Photo from Elegant Entomology

The most unlikely, but not entirely surprising, would be the leafcutter ant. Leafcutter ants can lift up to 50x their own body weight, an incredible feat when you consider that would be like an adult male lifting a pickup truck. However, ants are still quite tiny, so Santa would need to gather up 88,178 magic ants to pull his sleigh through the night.

Thankfully, reindeer are still a realistic and magical option for Santa’s sleigh. The National Wildlife Federation is dedicated to making sure that these, and other North American wildlife, are protected from the threats they face like climate change, oil spills, habitat destruction and other dangers.

When you donate to the National Wildlife Federation before January 1, your donation will be MATCHED, up to $1 million dollars! Join us today to protect that wildlife that call the United States home.

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