Ocean island boat cartoon. Comic book. Tintin 'The Black Island' cover. Reindeer. St Matthew Island. A remote outcrop in the Bering Sea 300km from mainland Alaska.
Research building drawing. Cargo ship reindeer cartoon. 1944: The U.S. Coast Guard establishes a LORAN (low-range radio navigation system) on St Matthew Island, staffed by a crew of 19 men. 29 reindeer are released onto the island as a backup food source. Within months the station is decommissioned and the men leave the island. The reindeer are left behind.
Reindeer grazing cartoon. Grass hills field drawing. The reindeer find themselves on an island rich in their favourite food, lichen. With abundant resources and no natural predators the reindeer breed prolifically.
Men researchers reindeer herd cartoon. Island walrus drawing. Summer 1957: Humans visit St Matthew Island on a research trip. In just 13 years the reindeer herd has ballooned from 29 to 1,350 individuals. The reindeer are in excellent health, fat from their nutritious diet of lichen.
Helicopter reindeer herd cartoon. Reindeer eating grass drawing. Summer 1963: The researchers revisit St Matthew Island. In six years the reindeer population has soared from 1,350 to 6,000. The dense herd's huge appetite has eliminated the island's lichen, with the population now grazing on sedge grass. With increased competition for food, the animals body weight has dropped since the last visit.
Reindeer bones cartoon. Dead reindeer antlers drawing. Summer 1966: The researches return to St Matthew Island. They find the island littered with reindeer skeletons. From a population peak of 6,000, only 42 reindeer remain: 41 females and one infertile male. There are no calves.
Graph. Seabird ocean cartoon. With their habitat's resources stretched, the population had been unable to survive the extremes of winter. In a matter of months, the population crashed by more than 99%. Without a way to reproduce, the reindeer population died off completely by the 1980s.
Island ocean drawing. Zoom out Earth cartoon. The island's untapped natural resources became the reindeer's source of prosperity, and also the seeds of their demise. The island was only so big, its resources only so many. How big is our island?


Support the artist

Read some reflections and insights into the St Matthew Island comic and the true story of the reindeer population crash in the blog section of this website.

Support the artist, and buy a $2 PDF of St Matthew Island.

  1. ethyl smith says:

    loved the drawings & the underlying message

  2. ethyl smith says:

    Loved the drawings and the underlying message

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  5. Cindy Wineburgh says:

    Thanks, Stuart, for this cartoon – my deceased husband George, a character himself (very unconventional doctor/gardener) loved graphic comics to illustrate ideas (he knew of Joe Sacco’s work). I find it very easy to understand complex issues this way! best wishes from Indiana/US

  6. Heliane says:

    That totally surprised me so much!

  7. basile says:

    Well done, interesting, but I think the humanity got more adaptation ability than deers, and will achieve to survive (but its environment will be severly downgraded, no contest).

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  9. Ronggo says:

    Excellent, I will show it to my kids

  10. santino says:

    I love it I crash my car into a person

  11. Max says:

    I really like this comic and you should make many more!! P.S. I wish our school had these type of stories!!

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  14. pFa says:

    - Thus reindeers teach: make love not kids. Isn’t it?
    – Not really. These stupid animals did not even invent war.

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  17. Anteater says:

    I’d say that the most interesting thing about the whole story is how fast the population decline happened. In ’63, during their population peak, the talk of town among the reindeer might have been something like:
    “Hmm, food is getting a bit scarce. Might be we can’t grow or population more. Perhaps it’s even going to have to shrink. A little bit. Over the next ten years or so.”
    They probably had no clue whatsoever that they were just two years away from a rapid population decline 0f 99.3%.
    Makes me go “hmmm…”

  18. shaakiryn says:

    you’re doing good.I love it maybe you can put color on your comic.

  19. Kierra says:

    wow

  20. Gina says:

    Wow, it’s really shocking. Because, they only started off with 29 Reindeer, first the population skyrocketed for 13 years. –Now, since the food source was scarce, all the reindeer started to die off. I’m not shocked to say that this could happen to another population as well.

  21. Savannah says:

    The amount of time it took them to die was crazy.

  22. ryan says:

    interesting good jobs. kept me thinking

  23. Tahtiyonna Solomon says:

    it is so impressive!
    reindeer failed to explore outer space before too late, they died off.

  24. Lenay T says:

    wow. Makes you think. Seriously

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  27. Adrian says:

    I personally think that the best example is the one of Easter Island. Many can argument that the collapse of St Matthew happened because they were just raindeers, not as “smart” as humans, but we see we are heading the same direction and still waste resources without taking any responsability. Freedom is yours as long as you don’t disturb the others freedom. what are we doing with the freedom of those who will live after us?. sorry if any error, english is not my mother tongue. Nice comic by the way!!

  28. Arianne says:

    I enjoyed this comic, could be very true and realistic to our generation today. Hopefully we’ll stop over consuming before it’s too late like the comic, in a way.

  29. Eric says:

    Very similar to the “tragedy of the commons” story. Well done!

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  31. Tim says:

    It is in fact not quite, but exactly Malthusian. It is a compact, real-life example of Malthus proposition. I recommend, for examples involving human beings, reading Jared Diamond’s excellent book “Collapse”, in which he describes in detail the collapse and extinction of a number of human communities due to exhaustion of ecological resources.

    Though Victorian predictions of the end of civilization due to the accumulation of horse dung and the group of Rome’s “Limits to Growth” have been falsified by human invention, we are genuinely looking at the end of some resources that are crucial to the current form of technological civilization. In fact the mere prospect of a shortage can be disastrous: as Diamond demonstrates in his book, humans, unlike reindeer, will fight ruthlessly for diminishing resources, causing chaos and accelerating the demise of society. Beware of the exponential function: it is at play in any situation of population growth and it can easily outstrip countermeasures that are merely linear.

  32. Robert says:

    If it’s scary and you’d rather not think about it, then it’s Malthusian. What we have to realize is that we are animals and our animal instincts drive us to breed, consume and fight. All the amazing technology that we’ve developed is driving us faster and faster towards a precipitous population crash. It is not slowing, nor can it prevent the final demise of our civilization. The signs are all there. You just have to open your eyes.

  33. Fie says:

    Hi Stuart, these comics are great! A really good combination of ‘education’, science and good stories. Well done. All the best, Fie

  34. Macedonio says:

    Quite malthusian! It’s very interesting and well done. But it forgets the human capacity to invent, to innovate. Just remember “the green revolution”, that has multiplied the production of grains. The problem of humans is that we have not been able to solve the issue of distribution (justice).
    Regards and thanks,

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  37. Mariana Tello says:

    Nonoli1998 is right but I would add one more factor: overpopulation.
    The time for being fruitful and multiply is gone. We have to start worrying more about the quality of the human race than its quantity.

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  40. nonoli1998 says:

    if we don’t stop our endless pollution and destruction of our earth….our only homeland will be the second St Matthew…..

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  42. Sam says:

    A very apt, and unique, analogy – the one about Easter Island has been done to death, but the message of both ecosystems can be found in innumerable examples…. but it’s a message that our current global civilization has failed to take heed of in any effective way, and the consequences for us will be the same, albeit slower as our ‘island’ is a lot bigger… good work Stuart!

  43. chen fan says:

    it is so impressive!
    reindeer failed to explore outer space before too late, they died off.
    think about our human
    back in the cold war, human beings were exploring outer space in so uneconomic ways, they were so proud for their ideologies therefore they have done “stupid” things to prove.
    nowadays, we are much smarter, profit comes first. sustainable development relies on environmental protection.
    I like to quote a word from my most favor sci-fiction writer
    “we are like an infant trying to fix our cradle”

  44. cailyn says:

    i love this aticle

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