Join in the reindeer games at the California Academy of Sciences

Courtesy PhotoCool caribou: Orion

Orion has enormous antlers, but Polaris’ much smaller ones are of particular scientific
interest.

The two Arctic reindeer, or caribou, are in residence at the California Academy of Sciences’ East Garden during the museum’s celebration of the winter holidays.

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Melissa Tauber, working at the reindeer pen during “’Tis the Season for Science,” explains what’s special about Polaris. The 4-year-old female has antlers, including a unique small, single horn in the center of her forehead, similar to a unicorn. (Most females in the deer kingdom do not have antlers at all, except for some reindeer.)  

Tauber, who seems to know absolutely everything about reindeer, has never seen anything like it.

Apparently, reindeer are pretty smart, too, because during recent heavy storms, they stayed inside the tent in the open garden. When it’s just ordinary rain, they don’t mind. If you tell ’em Rudolph jokes, they don’t respond.

How do they adjust to a climate so different from the Arctic? Tauber says one-third of their fur is a featherlike substance that provides insulation, protecting against both cold and heat, helping the reindeer adapt to different climates.

Orion, a 7-year-old male and “gentle giant who loves carrots and graham crackers,” was recently the subject of a name-the-reindeer contest. Linda Sue O’Connor of Cupertino, who submitted the winning name, will help Tauber care for and feed the caribou as one of her prizes.

The academy’s holiday celebration is great fun for adults and children, particularly little ones.

While parents absorb scientific data about animals associated with the holidays and winter migration (polar bears, snow geese, monarch butterflies), kids can run around the huge digital dome shaped like a giant snowman and frolic in the indoor snow flurries every 30 minutes.

The soap-sud “snow” melts away just like the real thing.

Inside the snowman dome is a small theater, where a short film for children about seasons is screening. On a small stage are live presentations, including  quizzes, music and dance performances.

Beyond the holiday exhibit, admission includes entrance to the whole academy in the Renzo Piano-designed glass palace, with its exceptional aquarium, planetarium, rain forest, natural history museum, 40,000 live animals and other exhibits under a living roof.

Special December programs include Saturday Safari in the African Hall at 11 a.m., family nature crafts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays, “toddler treks” for ages 1 through 3 (really) at 11 a.m. Dec. 20 and Jan. 8 — and much, much more.

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