Crew nets wandering reindeer

Posted: Friday, September 05, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) The University of Alaska's wandering reindeer is back.

After a chase that lasted more than two hours Thursday night through the Goldstream Valley, Tundra Joe was netted and returned to his pen at the Fairbanks campus.

''It was a rodeo,'' said a weary but relieved Greg Finstad, manager of the UAF reindeer research program.

Tundra Joe is a 5-year-old bull known for his docile personality and unique antler configuration. Someone cut a hole in his fence Sunday and he escaped.

On Monday, Tundra Joe was spotted near a pen of females, but he eluded capture for five days.

Alaska State Troopers flew Finstad over the area in a helicopter Thursday. Tundra Joe was first spotted on a road west of the campus.

Calls kept rolling into police dispatchers, prompting Finstad and his team of five to set out with a net gun and Elsa, a female halter-broke reindeer in tow. An energy-sapping chase followed.

''Elsa couldn't keep up,'' Finstad said. ''She's a little out of shape. She got tired.''

Finstad and two others chased Tundra Joe on foot for four or five miles.

''People were trying to do us a favor by following him, but actually they were pushing him farther and farther away from us,'' Finstad said.

The chasers finally drove up beside Tundra Joe and netted him from the back of their truck. Finstad grabbed the net and the rest of the crew pounced on the runaway reindeer and wrestled him to the ground.

Carol Hammond was at her North Rader Drive home when she heard the shot from the net gun. Her husband, Bob, and son, Scott, were outside in the family hot tub and watched as Finstad and his group struggled with the reindeer.

''By the time we got out there, one of the guys was sitting on him,'' Carol Hammond said. ''They had a rope around his antlers and around a tree. The whole group looked pretty tired. You could tell they had a pretty intense moment.''

University Police Chief Terry Vrabec said the scene was quite a spectacle. Neighbors came out to help and cars lined up on the road.

''Greg (Finstad) was teary-eyed,'' Vrabec said.

Both Tundra Joe and Elsa were returned to his pen by 8:30 p.m. Joe looked happy and healthy and was even following Elsa around, panting after her.

''It took him about 15 minutes,'' Finstad said.

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