Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and his friends may well be a magical alternative, but the real life version of Santa’s gang is just as fascinating! And, what’s better, you can meet them right inside the gates of Drayton Manor Park this Christmas. Experience some real magic this Christmas by paying a visit to Rudolph’s mates—there’s no better time to drop by! Here are some of the fascinating reindeer facts that made us fall in love with these amazing animals.

The Christmas connection

So how on earth did reindeer get the job of pulling Santa’s sleigh? Well, they actually haven’t been doing it as long as you might imagine. It’s a reindeer fact that the first person to reference the animals in relation to our good old Father Christmas was poet Clement Clarke Moore, in 1823. His renowned poem ‘A Visit From Saint Nicholas’ (you might know it better as ‘The Night Before Christmas’) was when the world first witnessed reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh:

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer…

“Now Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen!

On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, on Dunder and Blixem!

To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!

Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”

Dunder and Blixem

Did you notice anything strange about that extract from the poem? You might have picked up on the fact that two of the reindeers’ names sound a little funny! That’s because, when the poem was first published in 1823, their names were in Dutch. They were eventually changed to the German versions—Donner and Blitzen, the reindeer we all know and love! But if you want to crack out an interesting reindeer fact this Christmas, you can tell your family that the English translations of their names are actually ‘thunder’ and ‘lightening’.

What about Rudolph?

You won’t find mention of our most famous reindeer until over 100 years after Clement Clarke Moore’s poem. His first literary outing came in 1939, when German author Robert Lewis May published a children’s book entitled ‘Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer’—and Rudolph was such a hit, he’s been flying around Christmas ever since! Much like the very well known song, the story sees Rudolph teased by his fellow reindeer because of his big, red nose—that is, until Father Christmas asks him to lead his sleigh one night! And the rest, as we say, is history.

Here’s another little know Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer fact: did you know that Rudolph’s name actually means ‘famous wolf’ in German?!

Scientific about Santa’s Sleigh

Let’s a get a little nerdy about the science of Santa’s reindeers! We can try to figure which of the gang are male and which are female by looking at their antlers. How? Well, according to this reindeer fact, they shed their antlers at different times of year depending on their age and sex. Since Santa’s gang are always depicted with their proud antlers standing tall, it means that they’re probably all girls! Male reindeer shed their antlers at the end of the mating season, around early December; which would mean that by Christmas day, if Donner, Blitzen and the rest were male—they would be antler-less!

Around the earth in one night

We all know that Father Christmas and his posse have a great deal of work to do on Christmas Eve—delivering presents to the millions of boys and girls all around the world! But how far can their counterparts in Drayton Manor zoo travel? It’s not quite all the way around the earth in one night—but it’s pretty far. Reindeer in the wild are known to travel nearly 3,000 miles every year—that’s one of the furthest distances for land mammals recorded, and has to be one of the most impressive reindeer facts!

Flight speed

So if we’re saying that the reindeer can get around the earth in one night that must amount to supersonic flight speed. In fact, it has been calculated that if Father Christmas spends 32 hours delivering presents around the world, and has to travel 510,000,000km to do so, then that would mean that the reindeer would be flying at an epic 1,800 miles per second!

Our real-life reindeer don’t quite reach that speed, it’s true; but the babies do come out running—and we think that’s a pretty cool reindeer fact and ability! Within only a few minutes, the babies can already race: after several hours, they can run many miles. Once reindeer are fully grown, they’ll reach speeds up to 48 miles per hour. Wow!

Magical Reindeer coats

Although the reindeer in our zoo at Drayton Manor aren’t able to fly (or so we think), they do have fairly astonishing coats that allow them to do a whole host of other things. The hairs on their coats are hollow, which gives them great insulation, and also buoyancy. That means that reindeer can stand the super-cold temperatures of the North Pole, and also that they make great swimmers. Who knew!

Real-life reindeer superpowers

This random reindeer fact is pretty cool. Did you know that reindeer are probably the only mammals that can see ultraviolet light? Human sight only allows us to see wavelengths down to 400 nanometres, whereas the incredible reindeer vision can handle wavelengths as low as 320 nanometres—officially ultraviolet territory! It’s what helps them spot food against the glaring whiteness of the artic snow.

Reindeer, caribou…tomato, tomato

Although we’ve been calling them reindeer, there are actually many names for these amazing animals. The origins of ‘reindeer’ come from an Old Norse word meaning ‘horned animal’. Pretty accurate! But they are also called ‘caribou’ in some parts of the world, which comes from a French word translated as ‘snow shovel-er’. They also have a fancy Latin species name: Rangifer tarandus. But our favourite is still Rudolph…

Where can I meet them?

And this has to be our FAVOURITE reindeer fact of all! You can these animals right here in the zoo at Drayton Manor. Why not combine a December visit to the Castle of Dreams to meet Father Christmas with a trip to our zoo to say hello to his reindeer friends? Now, we can’t promise that you’ll see one of them take off into the night sky, but never say never. They are pretty magical animals, after all!