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Fears for Rudolph as 250,000 reindeer to be culled before Christmas over anthrax fears

A state of emergency was imposed in July over the anthrax outbreak, which has claimed the life of a 12-year-old boy.

Nenets people ride in a reindeer sleigh during Reindeer Herder's Day in Nadym, Yamal-Nenets region in the Siberian north.
Nenets people ride in a reindeer sleigh during Reindeer Herder's Day in Nadym, Yamal-Nenets region in the Siberian north.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

AUTHORITIES IN SIBERIA have proposed a cull of a quarter of a million reindeer by Christmas, in a bid to reduce the risk of an anthrax outbreak.

It is estimated that more than 700,000 reindeer roam in the Yamalo-Nenets region, in the arctic zone of the West Siberian plain. It is the largest herd in the world.

About 300,000 of the ruminants are on the Yamal peninsula, prompting concerns of overgrazing and dense herds that could cause the disease to spread quickly.

According to the Siberian Times, Yamalo-Nenets governor Dmitry Kobylkin has called for a proposal for how to reduce the population by 250,000 animals to be finalised by the end of September.

A cull is usually held in November and December, but the number of animals to be killed this year is much larger than usual, following renewed outbreaks in recent months of anthrax.

It’s thought that unusually warm temperatures thawed the carcass of a reindeer that perished from anthrax several decades ago, releasing the bacteria.

12-year-old boy

A state of emergency was imposed in July. Since then, a 12-year-old boy from the Yamalo-Nenets region died after consuming the venison of an infected reindeer.

Some 2,350 reindeer also died in the outbreaks, as well as a number of dogs.

Nikolai Vlasov, the deputy head of Russia’s federal veterinary and phytosanitary surveillance service, told the Siberian Times the more dense an animal population is, the greater the risk of disease transfer.

He is calling for the reindeer population to be reduced, warning that infection can spread rapidly through large herds.

“Density of livestock, especially in the tundra areas that are very fragile, should be regulated,” he said.

It is impossible to breed reindeers without limits.

The population on the Yamal peninsula in particular was nearing a “dangerous milestone”, said Vlasov, with 300,000 reindeer competing for sufficient food for 110,000 animals.

Too many animals could kill pastures, compromising the livelihoods of the indigenous population, he said.

Finland Reindeer Facts Reindeer in Finland. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Nomadic people

But Olga Murashko, an anthropologist, expressed concern that the cull would deal a blow to nomadic people with small, private herds of about 100 reindeer.

She also queried asked whether the move has anything to do with the climb in gas licensing in the region.

“The coincidence of this news … with the rapid issuing of licenses for gas extraction in the same region causes the greatest concern over the fate of the reindeer herders,’ she said.

It is clear that within the short time frame given, the indigenous reindeer herders cannot be properly consulted on the administration’s plans to annihilate a large number of reindeer.

Nomadic groups sustained their way of life even through the Soviet era but were now under threat, she added.

Source: The Telegraph/YouTube

Norwegian lightning

Meanwhile, 300 wild reindeer have been killed by lightning in southern Norway, the largest such incident known to date.

The 323 reindeer, including 70 young, were found on Friday by a gamekeeper on the Hardangervidda plateau, a national park where Europe’s largest herd of some 10,000 wild reindeer roam freely.

Television footage showed the animals’ dead bodies lying close together on the ground.

“There were very strong storms in the area on Friday. The animals stay close together in bad weather and these ones were hit by lightning,” an official from the Norwegian Environment Agency, Kjartan Knutsen, told AFP.

Reindeer are social creatures and usually move in packs.

“It’s unusual. We’ve never seen anything like this on this scale,” Knutsen said.

Norwegian authorities have yet to decide what to do with the animals.

We’re going to decide soon whether to let nature run its own course or whether we will do something.

Of the 323 reindeer killed, five had to be put down due to their injuries. There are around 25,000 wild tundra reindeer in Norway, located in the southern mountain ranges, according to experts.

With reporting from AFP.

- © AFP, 2016

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