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Yamal trims back reindeer cull to 100,000 as herders fear future of nomadic lifestyle

By Olga Gertcyk
07 October 2016

Venison exports will 'increase' despite first anthrax outbreak in 70 years, but scientists remain adamant: Herd numbers must fall further.

Petition to President Vladimir Putin already warns of the risk of destroying a traditional nomadic way of life that has remained little-changed for centuries in Arctic regions. Picture: Georgy Shpikalov

Yamelo-Nenets governor Dmitry Kobylkin has suggested the winter cull of reindeer will be around 100,000, a figure that is lower than scientists proposed in order to preserve overgrazed pastures and limit the spread of new outbreaks of anthrax.

At the same time, the region has said it is confident venison exports to Scandinavia and elsewhere in Europe will increase this winter despite the summer health scare, which led to the death of one boy, and some 2,349 reindeer. 

The annual 'slaughter campaign' - usually starting in November - is already underway in some areas, as officials seek ways of persuading herders to reduce reindeer numbers. In all there are 730,000 reindeer in the region.  

The issue is delicate with one petition to President Vladimir Putin already warning of the risk of destroying a traditional nomadic way of life that has remained little-changed for centuries in Arctic regions. 

Dmitry Kobylkin

'We need to decrease the reindeer livestock by approximately 100,000.' Picture: KhMAO administration

The governor told Investment Forum Sochi-2016 that some 2,500 deer were killed in the anthrax outbreak. 'The restoration of livestock is out of the question. We need to decrease the reindeer livestock by approximately 100,000.'

The figure is lower than the 250,000 mentioned in September, and experts - notably Professor Nikolai Vlasov, deputy head of Rosselkhoznadzor, Russia's Federal Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance Service - have made clear herd numbers should total no more than 400,000 to be sustainable.

Previously there were warnings that Yamal peninsula - part of the region, and entirely in the Arctic - could sustain 110,000, but now has 300,000, with the lichens on which they feed substantially destroyed.

This year there will be an increase in venison production both for export and the domestic Russian market, but it is hard to see that this will reduce the herd numbers in line with demands from scientists, or even by the 100,000 figure the governor has specified. 

Senior regional agricultural official Andrey Revnivykh said: 'The slaughtering campaign this year will differ, because it is planned to increase the amount of venison production. This is related to the opinion of scientists that we need to limit the area of reindeer pastures. 

Reindeer


Tents

'Limiting of the number is inevitable. And if we do not take measures, as soon as possible, there will be mass death anyway. Picture: Ural Branch of RAS

'The food supply doesn't allow for grazing of a herd which has reached 730,000.  Scientists claim that on the territory of the autonomous region can graze only about 370,000 deer.'

He explained: 'If in past years, private herders complained that the slaughtering facilities do not take their meat, this will no longer happen... We have foreign partners which are ready to buy such volumes of meat. We have long-term contracts.

'If last year we delivered about 300 tons, this year they are ready to take 800 tonnes.'

On a positive note, there is a sense that the anthrax outbreaks - there were three in different locations in the region in summer 2016 - will not adversely impact on venison exports. 

The director of Yamal largest meet processing company 'Yamal Reindeer' (Yamalskiye Oleni), Evgeny Maltesev, believes that the demand will not drop. 

He said: 'Our foreign partners are not scared with what happened in the Yamal district. The region has successfully coped with the emergency. Our partners are aware of all the events and have already declared that they trust us, and have no doubt in the safety and quality of the Yamal venison.'

Venison

'If last year we delivered about 300 tons, this year they are ready to take 800 tonnes.' Picture: Vesti.ru

Finnish company Polarika Oy have already bought 300 tons of venison this year and there are plans this month  to extend the contract.

Alexander Mazharov, Deputy Governor of Yamalo-Nenets autonomous region, confirmed that the regional government had received a telegram from Finnish importers that they are pleased with the measures taken by the Yamal authorities to eliminate the anthrax outbreak. 

'We believe that we can continue our fruitful cooperation,' he said. 'Furthermore, we sincerely hope to increase the volume of the exported production. For the current 2016-2017 season it can be 800 tonnes.'

Delegations from Sweden are expected and in November a German delegation is due to decide if they will extend their contract for venison exports. Governor's spokeswoman Nadezhda Noskova said: 'Despite the anthrax outbreak this summer, the export of venison from Yamal has not been affected.

'The region fulfilled contract obligations from the previous winter. The next season is starting late autumn, and Yamal will continue exports.

Deer

For a long time there is a certain idealisation of the reindeer herder as a harmless man who lives in harmony with nature and under any circumstances is to defend and protect. It is nothing like this. Picture: Vladimir Adayev 

'For example, Finland purchases around 400 tons of Yamal venison every year. This season it is planned to supply as much venison. Exports not only to Finland but to other EU countries will possibly increase.' She confirmed that the governor had ordered 'that all the livestock of domestic reindeers will be vaccinated starting from 2017'.

This will prevent future outbreaks even if - as happened in the summer 2016 - 'zombie infections' are reawakened in the Yamal soil due to high temperatures which thaw the permafrost. 

The government viewed a decision to halt vaccinations in 2007 as a 'big mistake', she said. In 2015 some 48,000 deer were slaughtered, yet the trend of a rising population has continued for many years. 

This year there will be better financial incentives to encourage private herders to increase the numbers of deer to be slaughtered, while there are also plans in the regional 'road map' on reducing herds to boost the capacity of slaughter houses.

Petition

Yeiko Serotetto, concerned about the impact of the proposed cull, is collecting signatures for an online petition to the president. Picture: Change.org 

Usually the slaughtering season begins in late November, but it is already underway in some districts. 

One herder, Yeiko Serotetto, concerned about the impact of the proposed cull, is collecting signatures for an online petition to the president. Serotetto sees a hidden motive in the attempts to reduce herd numbers, which can threaten the traditional way of live of nomads in this region.

The governor has linked the cull to the summer outbreak of anthrax yet Rosselkhoznadzor 'said that the cause of the outbreak was the government's decision in 2007 to cancel the compulsory vaccination of deer. 

'Vaccinated deer cannot contract anthrax. We believe that this step is caused by the interests of the gas industry. Our nomads and reindeer hinder the industry. 

'We want to preserve our culture and traditional way of life. If they force people to reduce the number of the deer, it will dramatically and irrevocably worsen the socio-economic situation in the region.

Map


Dead reindeer


Burning corpses


Military operation

Public attention to the problem was attracted only recent because of anthrax outbreaks - there were three in different locations in the region in summer 2016. Pictures: The Siberian Times, Ural Branch of RAS, YANAO press-service

'Even the authorities understand this, (and they) are now deciding what to do with those of us who will be left with no work and without deer. After all, in the tundra, and especially for private herders, the deer is his life. 

'Thanks to deer, the herder is always fed and dressed, and in general in no need....(and he) is engaged in this profession all his life, passing it from generation to generation.'

The petition goes on: 'Some 70% of the herders in Yamal are private (operators), and now the government wants to deprive them of their bread, leaving them with a minimum, or even worse, nothing.

'I want to ask you for help, because there is no other place to ask, because they simply do not hear and do not want to hear us.'

Vaccination


Vaccination

The government viewed a decision to halt vaccinations in 2007 as a 'big mistake'. Pictures: Vesti.Yamal

He called on the authorities 'not to destroy people's lives for the sake of oil and gas, as you can develop economies not only by the sale of the resources and the destruction of Arctic nature'.

There are some 13,000 reindeer herders in the tundra, many with no regular internet access. The petition so far has gathered around 500 signatures.

But Dr Vlasov and other scientists - notably Dr Vladimir Bogdanov, director of the Urals Institute of Plant and Animal Ecology - insist reindeer numbers are 'too high', warning that traditional herding could be threatened by disease.

Dr Bogdanov suggested fenced pastures, an idea floated by the Yamal authorities, is a non-starter. In a blunt intervention, he said 'it cannot help to sole the problem of overgrazing on the Yamal Peninsula... Reducing the number of deer is necessary - by at least 200,000. 

'The problem is that to change the situation by issuing orders... is impossible. Special rights of the indigenous inhabitants of the North are fixed in the (Russian) Constitution, and they are well aware of this. An order from above can cause a social explosion.

Beware of action that would put age-old tundra nomadism at risk in Yamal, says expert

'They will kill the pastures and later will destroy the indigenous minorities of the North who will have nothing to live on.' Picture: Vladimir Adayev 

'It is necessary for their representatives to gather at some congress and decide what to do next - by themselves. There must be defined upper threshold of number of reindeer. A law on reindeer herding, which plans to reduce the number of animals is also needed.

'Limiting of the number is inevitable. And if we do not take measures, as soon as possible, there will be mass death anyway. Deer will not survive starvation, various diseases. 

'For example, when the deer is gaining food in difficult conditions (breaking through the ice crust), it damages the hoof, cracks appear, then infection enters the cracks. We scientists have been ringing the alarm for many years. But public attention to the problem was attracted only recent because of anthrax.

'For a long time there is a certain idealisation of the reindeer herder as a harmless man who lives in harmony with nature and under any circumstances is to defend and protect. It is nothing like this.

'Tundra people turned to be the same merchants, like all the others: if there is an opportunity to earn, they will earn by destroying their habitat. They destroy their own ethnic group, because they believe that reindeer prosperity will be eternal. 

Herders in Nadym

'Do not to destroy people's lives for the sake of oil and gas, as you can develop economies not only by the sale of the resources and the destruction of Arctic nature'. Picture: Gazprom

'But there is an internal mechanism in the ecosystem for constraining the excessive growth of ungulates: anthrax, for example. Since the nineteenth century it is known that as soon as the number of reindeer on Yamal exceeds 100,000 immediately follows their mass death.' 

Vlasov has said previously: 'The more dense the animal population is, the better the disease transfer medium (and) the more often animals get sick. Density of livestock, especially in the tundra areas that are very fragile, should be regulated.'

He called for scientifically-calculated targets based on what can be sustained on pastures. Reindeer limits should not be exceeded. 

'The number of animals should not surpass this,' he said. 'Otherwise, they will kill the pastures and later will destroy the indigenous minorities of the North who will have nothing to live on. It is impossible to breed reindeers without limits.'

He said Yamal was 'reaching a dangerous milestone'. 'I base my conclusions on Soviet standards,' he said. 'Back then livestock was kept at the same number, 300,000-to-400,000 heads. Now there are 700,000 already.'

Comments (1)

Спасибо вам люди что не осталиcь без внимания
Ейко , СЭРОТЭТТО
08/10/2016 01:22
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