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Running of the reindeer

About a dozen of the animals will be released into Anchorage streets in the inaugural event.

January 20, 2008|From Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA — This is no bull; you can take part in the inaugural Running of the Reindeer.

In an homage to Spain's Running of the Bulls, visitors to downtown Anchorage's annual winter festival, the Fur Rendezvous, will get the chance to run shoulder-to-shoulder with reindeer.

About a dozen reindeer will be set loose Feb. 24 on snow-packed, fence-lined 4th Avenue, and joined by people who will pay $20 to run with the reindeer. "I think we'll have to turn people away," said Bob Lester, a local disc jockey who came up the idea.

Fur Rendezvous officials are capping participation at 1,000 -- 500 men and 500 women -- who will run with the reindeer separately. So far, about 40 people have signed up.

Event organizers are spending $900 on liability insurance. But the man supplying the reindeer is more worried about the four-legged participants.

"I'm more scared for my reindeer," Tom Williams said.

He gets as many as 10,000 visitors annually to his farm about 40 miles north of Anchorage. "The reindeer give me no pause. The people give me pause. If the people start acting subhuman, they might cause the deer to act subhuman," he said.

If a runner tries to climb on a deer or the activities spook one, an animal could be injured trying to get away.

But his biggest fear is that the reindeer will just be docile.

"I'll probably be trying to solve the biggest problem of all -- lack of fear and motivation, and a love for the people," he said.

"I'm afraid the deer are just going to stand there. It may be a very slow walk, with the animals sticking their noses in people's pockets, looking for something to eat," Williams said.

Reindeer antlers are soft and they can't gore because they curl inward, Williams said.

"If you're wearing winter clothes, the antler cannot pierce you," he said. "Their feet are as big as a moose's but really soft, so when they kick it's like being kicked with a big soft pad. Reindeer only have one set of teeth, on the bottom front, so if they bite you it doesn't hurt."

In fact, he thinks event organizers should handicap the humans so they are more vulnerable and less likely to provoke the animals. "I think we should make them wear fur bikinis and fur Speedos to even things out," Williams said.

Both Williams and Dave Klein, a professor emeritus in wildlife ecology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said running wasn't dangerous for reindeer. "Asking them to run is not bad," Klein said. "Reindeer are used to running. Obviously they have to run if they're being chased by wolves or a bear or something."

But he says the Running of the Reindeer could be vulnerable to an image problem, especially if a deer gets too excited and injures itself. "It will be offensive to some people," Klein said. "There will be people for sure who will complain."

The winter carnival also will feature reindeer in skijoring and sled-pulling races.

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