Yes, the Glowing Deer Antlers You’ve Seen on Twitter Was a Real Thing
Years ago in Finland, herders basically tried to do "high viz-vests but for reindeer" to help motorists avoid crashes. It didn't really work, alas.
Pictures of reindeer standing in roads with their antlers glowing like weapons from the Covenant Empire have been floating around Twitter for some reason. My editor asked me to find out what the hell was going on and it turns out, yeah, people really did paint animal antlers to help drivers avoid hitting them at night. But it didn’t really do any good in the end.
Goth reindeer aesthetics aside, the issue of reindeer strikes in Finland is a very real and very dangerous one. There are thousands of car accidents killing thousands of reindeer every year happening on Finnish roads. It seems like this was first shared around online way back in 2014; we found old posts from Smithsonian Mag and NPR on the subject.
But since it seems to have resurfaced in some feeds today, we figured we’d take the opportunity to talk about heavy metal reindeer… even though the glowing paint plan didn’t exactly work as well Finnish authorities had hoped it would.
That picture of the orange antlers might just be somebody being funny with photoshop, but the white antlers pic is definitely real. Here’s the full-size shot and accompanying caption, we had it in our AP images subscription catalog!
Annie Ollila, chairwoman of the Reindeer Herders Association (yes, that’s real) spoke to a few publications in 2014 about trialing the reflective antlers idea. The primary purpose is to increase visibility for motorists to avoid a crash, with the side effect of looking like aliens invading Scandinavia’s forests.
Unfortunately, only two years later in 2016, Ollila spoke to Phys Org about the eventual failure of the experiment. While the goal of increased visibility was achieved, drivers did not interpret the increased visibility quite how they hoped. According to Ollila, motorists would mistake the reflective bone for humans with reflective jackets and assume that they wouldn’t walk out in front of traffic. This was not the case, and not much of an effect was seen on reindeer crashes. Also, the reindeer would scrape the reflective paint off of their antlers once it was applied and of course the animals shed their antlers anyway (more fun facts about reindeer and caribou are available on the FDA’s website about them).
Instead, Finnish authorities started trialing an app that seems to work like Waze but for reindeer, where users can report reindeer sightings. 1,000 devices locked to the app were given to heavy transport drivers for free as a trial run, but I haven’t found any reporting since 2016 about the reindeer strike problem.
In Finland, reindeer herding is an industry that employs 10,000 people and generates 5.5 million pounds of meat per year. It’s a big business over there, and thousands of dead reindeer do leave a dent in that. Since 2016, reindeer accidents have grown and seemed to have actually peaked in 2020. It’s an ongoing phenomenon that is seemingly unsolvable, though the app seems to have made a dent in 2016.
Either way, the metal-as-hell glowing antlers reindeer are from long ago, and you aren’t likely to see them anymore. It was pretty heckin’ cool while it lasted, though.