Red-nosed flying reindeer, Rangifer rudolphicus USF&W photo

(You may need your children to help you read this)


The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a great wilderness of about a half-million square acres. It has been the mission of the Park to preserve the thousands of species of plants and animals that live there and, where and when possible, reintroduce species that used to occur there but are now gone.

When it comes to animals the Park has had success and failures. The effort a few years back to reintroduce red wolves in the Park had to be abandoned. But other efforts like the river otter and elk have been great successes.

I believe the success with the elk paves the way for one of the most ambitious and exciting reintroduction efforts imaginable. I think we all should press the Park and our Congressional representatives to reintroduce rudolph. Rudolph is the common name for the flying red-nosed reindeer, Rangifer rudolphicus.

It can be a little confusing because Rudolph is also the proper name for one special flying red-nosed reindeer that spends his winters at the North Pole and helps Santa navigate all inclement weather conditions on Christmas Eve in order to successfully distribute his payload of Christmas joy before daylight Christmas Day. The way it works is – only the dominant alpha-male rudolph’s nose will turn red and glow. When dominancy is determined through a ritual of antler jousting, racing and high jumping, all the reindeer gather and proclaim the winner “Rudolph” and his nose begins to glow.

Reindeer, like elk, are large “cervids.” Cervids are basically deer – like Bambi and rudolphs are unique cervids that evolved to fly. Elk reintroduction in the Park has been successful and the next logical step would be reindeer – in particular, rudolphs. It is widely known that reindeer inhabited parts of Tennessee and likely the mountains of Western North Carolina back in the Pleistocene.

Recent research from GIRLS (Global Institute for Reindeer Locale Studies) has determined that the species of reindeer that inhabited this area was Rangifer rudolphicus. And more importantly, they determined that areas in the Park like Mount LeConte and Clingmans Dome would be ideal rudolph habitat.

Redda Bibi and Wunorse Openslae are the elves in charge of Santa’s reindeer at the North Pole. They have read the GIRLS research and are 100 percent supportive. “The Smokies would surely be a quel (Elvish for good) place for rudolph reintroduction,” said Bibi.

“Yeah,” said Openslae, “Redda and I have been to both Clingmans Dome and Mount LeConte. We go there to get the materials for the magic reindeer dust so the rudolphs can fly. The dust is a mixture of plant materials and minerals that occur naturally in the Smokies.”

The GIRLS, the elves and Santa have spent years trying to cope with the problem of world population growth. “Our magic is powerful,” said Bibi, “but as the population grows, it becomes more and more difficult to reach each and every little girl and boy on Christmas Eve.”

“We believe a solution would be to have reindeer outposts at strategic places around the world,” said Openslae. “Fresh rudolphs with fresh reindeer dust would make the blink of an eye even blinkier,” he said with a wink.

And they all agree, the Smokies would be the place to start. There is scientific evidence that points to prior reindeer habitation. The success of the elk reintroduction and the fact that the makings of reindeer dust are present make it the perfect spot for the first reindeer outpost.

The elves say it would be easy to start a captive breeding program. “Rudolph already has a thing for Vixen,” Bibi said. “Besides, we already have a reindeer nursery where we care for babies,” Openslae said. “And we believe that a magical place like the Smokies, where reindeer dust grows naturally, would only make the rudolphs faster and stronger!”