Oh Sven, what scary antlers you have.
This male reindeer’s antlers are turning heads at the Columbus Zoo. Sven’s stalks look rather gory right now, crimson in color and covered with droopy pieces of the soft velvet that was once blanketed the extremities.
While this new look has alarmed some guests, it is completely natural. Zoo staff explained on Facebook that each year, reindeer “drop” their antlers, which includes shedding the soft velvet that covers them throughout the first part of the year.
“Antlers are not permanent; both male and female reindeer (along with male moose) will drop their antlers as the new antler begins to grow. Since antlers are bone, they need a blood supply in order to grow, and that is precisely what the velvet provides. Nutrients and oxygen supplied by the blood allows the antlers to become larger every year,” zookeepers wrote on the zoo’s Facebook page along with a photo of Sven.
Male reindeer tend to drop their antlers before Christmas, while females wait until after the holiday season. (This means that Santa’s squad is mostly likely all-female.)
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Zoo staffers also comforted animal lovers who were worried that this shedding and dropping process was painful for the reindeer.
“During this time of year the shifts in day length trigger hormone level changes that start the process of velvet shedding. The antlers will stop growing and harden. Increases in testosterone cause the blood supply to the velvet to constrict and dry up (be naturally cut off by their body). Although it may look like it is painful it is not. The animals will then rub the dried up velvet off,” the Facebook post continued, positing, at worst, that the process is probably a little itchy.
Once Sven’s Halloween antlers drop off, they will be cleaned and given to other zoo animals, who love gnawing on the reindeer accessories.