A rein­deer’s per­ilous jour­ney in Swedish La­p­land

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

A herd of rein­deer moves silently down the moun­tain, their sil­ver coats and ma­jes­tic antlers blend­ing into the Swedish tun­dra as their herder leads them to their win­ter graz­ing grounds in the plains be­low. The an­nual pil­grim­age, called tran­shu­mance, takes on al­most sa­cred mean­ing for Swe­den’s indige­nous Sami rein­deer herders nowa­days, as they face modern-day threats to their liveli­hood from wind tur­bines, global warm­ing, log­ging, and min­ing. “It’s a painful life, but the most beau­ti­ful there is,” says Mar­gret Fjell­strom, who owns sev­eral hun­dred rein­deer in Dikanas, a vil­lage in Swe­den’s moun­tains 800 kilo­me­ters north of the cap­i­tal Stock­holm. “My iden­tity de­pends on this life. When a fawn is born, we for­get all of our trou­bles,” the 30-year-old Sami said.

Ev­ery au­tumn, the rein­deer are taken to their win­ter pas­ture in the plains by their own­ers, the Sami-for­merly called Lapp­s­the only peo­ple au­tho­rized to herd rein­deer in Swe­den. In Dikanas, helpers on snow­mo­biles and quad bikes pre­pare for the move by lead­ing thou­sands of the an­i­mals into an en­clo­sure. There the fawns are marked, and the adults are sep­a­rated. The fat­test are sent to the slaugh­ter­house­their meat is con­sid­ered a del­i­cacy in the Nordic coun­tries-while the oth­ers are sent to the forests in the plains teem­ing with lichen, a type of moss that makes up the rein­deer’s main diet.

Mar­gret Fjell­strom’s lasso whirls above her furred hat as she shouts out or­ders to her helpers. Around her waist in a sheath rests the in­dis­pens­able knife used to carve the mark in the an­i­mals’ ears. They need to move quickly. Night falls be­fore 3:00 pm this far north, the semi-do­mes­ti­cated rein­deer are get­ting stressed and the herders are ex­hausted from a hard day’s work. Un­der the watch­ful gaze of a group of fas­ci­nated chil­dren, the herders lay the rein­deer down and hold them still as they mark and vac­ci­nate them. The herders then load them onto the trucks that will take them to their win­ter pas­ture, 200 kilo­me­ters east.

In Dikanas, rein­deer herding is no longer done the tra­di­tional way, on foot: the an­i­mals’ jour­ney through the wilder­ness full of peat bogs, dense forests and lakes has be­come too per­ilous. With global warm­ing, the cross­ing has be­come more treach­er­ous as the ice on the lakes is not thick enough to walk on yet. “The wa­ter (cur­rent) is strong and there­fore im­pass­able, or the ice is too frag­ile. A farmer from a Sami vil­lage a lit­tle fur­ther north drowned in early Novem­ber,” Fjell­strom re­calls. This leaves the herders no other choice than to take to the road, even though it costs more. Other dangers lie in wait. Forty per­cent of fawns die from the cold, while wolver­ines, bears, wolves, lynx and ea­gles all prey on the rein­deer. Fjell­strom es­ti­mates her losses in 2015 at 250,000 kro­nor (23,400 eu­ros), de­spite the dam­ages paid by lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to com­pen­sate for her rein­deer lost to preda­tors. “Swe­den has de­cided to pro­tect its species to di­ver­sify its wildlife. That’s good, but is it fair that I have to pay for it?,” she asks. —AFP

DIKANAS, Swe­den: A Sami man from the Vil­helmina Norra Sameby, catches a rein­deer dur­ing a gathering of his rein­deers herd for se­lec­tion and calf la­bel­ing.

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