BRANCHBURG, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – New Jersey may have its very own St. Nick. A Branchburg man is making people smile this Christmas with the help of his real life reindeer – Thunder and Jingles.

If you wander deep enough into the central New Jersey farmland, you’ll find two of Santa’s reindeer relaxing after a busy night pulling his sleigh.

Mark Sopko has had the duo for the past three years after getting them in upstate New York.

Thunder and Jingles, a pair of reindeer living in New Jersey. (Credit: CBS2)

“I’ll go somewhere, we do a show and someone will come up to me and say ‘what are they really?’ and I’ll say ‘reindeer,’” Sopko told CBS2’s Reena Roy.

Sopko loved reindeer as a kid and spent time studying the animal.

They are believed to have originated in Europe and were first brought to Alaska in the 1800s. Their bodies are built for snow with thick fur and a special reindeer walk that makes a clicking sound.

“That’s tendon in legs that’s snapping… that’s how they find each other in a blizzard,” Sopko explained.

The reindeer expert added they’re similar to caribou and both are in the deer family. There’s a big difference from the rest of the deer family however, reindeer are domesticated.

Every year they shed their antlers. When they grow new ones, they’ll come back even bigger.

“Probably next month his antlers will fall off and he’ll start growing new ones right away.”

By this time next year, with new antlers at the ready, the pair will be spreading Christmas cheer across New Jersey again.


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