It was a narrow strip of tundra far out in the Bering Sea.

You had heard of St Matthew Island, how in 1944 the US Coast Guard had shipped in twenty nine reindeer as food for the navigation station personnel, and how in the rush at the end of the war, they had been left behind.

You were curious about what would have happened to a herd with abundant food and no predators, and in 1957 you got a chance to visit. You found over a thousand fat reindeer. It seemed ideal; the herd density matched the capacity of the land. But small patches of overgrazing made you wonder.

Six years later you went back to find innumerable tracks and droppings and bent-over willows. The reindeer population had exploded to six thousand. They were thinner now and stressed.

The winter of 1965 was too severe to land. You flew over but could see no deer. The pilot refused to fly lower. Did you miss them?

In July 1966 you found an island littered with skeletons, forty two reindeer and no active males. The herd would soon be extinct. You had watched this unintended experiment come full circle, David Klein, knowing that soon arctic foxes would be the largest mammal on this windswept island once again.

 

St Matthew Island