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Thinking for a cooler world

Gianna Gruen | Reporter's Log

Exploring the North – ‘Hunting’ for reindeer

If you’re up in the North, there are some things you just have to do – hunting reindeer for example. But instead of using guns, we’ve been on their tracks with a camera hoping to get a photo.

Photo Credit: CC

Photo Credit: CC

Reindeer are mostly active during twilight. So the daylight’s almost fading by the time our rented car enters an unimposing little side street out in an industrial area near the harbor of Pitea in Sweden. Here, they don’t clear the roads of the snow anymore, but instead push some of it aside and flatten the rest.

Beside the street, dark green fir trees soar high and you can smell reindeer dung although you can’t see the beasts yet. Patrick Lundgren stands next to his pickup truck. He  appears shy at first though that seems at odds with his powerful stature.  The man from the native Sami people radiates calm (even in unsettling situations as we found out later). He speaks slowly,  carefully choosing his words. His attentive eyes rest thoughtfully on the foreigners who want to see “his” reindeer.

Sami people have been reindeer herders for generations in the Nordic countries. The animals are only found here today thanks to the Sami who tend to them. The herders take them down from the North to southern regions where they can still find food themselves, if there wasn’t a changing climate.

Patrick takes his shovel from the pickup, trudges through the snow into the forest (while the rest of us struggle not to fall into the snow at every step) and starts digging. One meter of snow has to be displaced until he hits solid ground. The snow cracks a little bit every time his shovel hits the layer. He bends over, reaches into the hole and grabs something. He blows into his hand and holds it out.  “This is what they like,” he says and shows us a few  lichens and fir needles.

During a normal winter, the reindeer could dig into the ground themselves with their snout. But this winter isn’t normal. Last week it was +10 degrees Celsius – far too warm. The snow started to turn to water. But then temperatures dropped again around minus 11 degrees Celsius again and the melted water froze to ice, forming a rock-solid hard cover which the reindeer cannot penetrate. Patrick then  has to provide food in the form of pellets for the about 3,000 animals in the forest – each animal eating about two kilograms. That’s quite expensive though, but it’s the only chance for the reindeer who double up as “climate helpers.”  

Finally, we not only got what we came for but we also learned much more. Looking at the people, environment and treasures around the Arctic circle, you realize that they are all connected. So, when my journey is over I hope to give you a broader picture of the Artic circle region, one that shows the links between what’s playing out on the ice and the seemingly disparate stories below the surface.


March 8, 2013