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Cutting Of The Antlers May Be Harmful For Reindeers


The reindeer`s antlers make the beauty and the pride of a male, being a reliable weapon during spring tournaments. In autumn the antlers are no longer needed, so reindeers shed the antlers and grow them up anew in the next season. With the majority of the reindeer types, the male sex hormones control the growth of the antlers. But the reindeer`s doe has also got antlers. A pregnant doe carries antlers throughout winter, as the antlers help a doe to get food from under the snow, to keep off predators and males carrying no antlers, so that they would not interfere with the doe`s pasturing. The scientists have found out that the females` antlers growth mainly depends on the estradiol (female sex hormone) action.

The case with the males is not that simple. When the males are on heat, that being the period of the most rapid growth of the antlers, the concentration of several hormones, both male and female, increases in the reindeers` blood, that is why it is difficult to judge which specific hormone expedites the antlers` growth. The Soviet biologist I. I. Shmalgauzen assumed in his studies that not only the reindeer sex glands effected the antlers` growth, but the antlers when growing also produced the hormones which regulate the sex gland function. The research carried out by M.F. Borisenkov (Institute of Physiology, Komi Scientific Center, Ural Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences, Syktyvkar) has proved that the newly-growing antlers` cutting off changes the hormone status of the organism, although it does not impact the testicle endocrine function.

The research was carried out on the adult males from the deer-raising agricultural co-operative farm called `Olenevod`, town of Vorkuta. In June, 1.5-2 months after the mass fawning, the farm staff fulfilled the regular cutting of the reindeers` antlers taking proper care of the wounds. A day after the operation the concentration of progesterone hormone increased in the blood serum of all the animals, for the non- emasculated animals this effect lasting four months, till autumn. After that no more blood tests were taken. In autumn the males which are lucky to retain the antlers that long normally shed them. This is a natural process, driving no hormonal surges.

Progesterone is synthesized by the adrenal glands and testicles. However, as the emasculated animals have no testicles, the researcher believes that the antlers cutting impacts the adrenal glands, producing no effect on the sex glands` endocrine function. Of course, this is a positive fact, nevertheless, the scientists need to investigate the impact of the increased progesterone level on the organism of the reindeer. So far the role of this sex hormone in the organism of the male reindeer has not been thoroughly investigated. For some mammals this hormone causes stress. Certainly, cutting of the antlers is a heavy stress factor and it causes a lot of pain to the animal, but no stress can last for four months.

Borisenkov is planning to continue the experiments to find out the source of excess progesterone. If it is produced by the adrenal glands, then cutting of the antlers may somehow impact the other steroid hormones synthesis. Among other functions steroid hormones effect the metabolism process, various glands structure and the state of immune system. Possibly the antlers utilization for the medicine purposes causes more harm to the reindeers than the scientists used to believe.

Tatiana Pitchugina | alphagalileo

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