Reindeer/Caribou Rangifer Tarandus.
The reindeer is a hooved animal related to the other kind
of deers lat: cervus that can be found in most parts of the world,
but not as closely as a quick look at a reindeer might make one think since
the reindeer in some respects is unique. Browsing through scientific literature
might give you a hint that the reindeer is special, since it sometimes
can be found listed together with the Munitacus and Hydropontes.
Most of the special characteristics have developed as an adaption to the arctic and sub arctic, such as the broad hooves which enable the reindeer to walk on and dig in deep snow after food. The hooves are also flexible and can be spread out to carry the animal on soft ground or snow. Useful both on the soft snow in the springtime and on mosses and swamps during the short summer.
The reindeercows carry their foetus from Sept/Oct until May/June
when the calves is born, the developement of the unborn is somewhat delayed so
the calves will get born in the later part of spring when at least some of the snow
The cow will then have easier access to food, and so will be able to produce more milk for their young. These adaptions to the arctic have made the reindeers a very succesful species and one can find reindeers around the whole northern polar circle, also in Mongolia and a small area of China closest to the Mongolian border.
All these reindeers are of the same species, even though they sometimes are named differently such as in Canada and Alaska where they are called Caribou.
Both the reindeerbulls and the cows have antlers, the bulls use theirs when they compete for the cows during the autumn while the cows have theirs for protection especially to protect the calves against predators. When one or several calves is too weak to avoid a threat the cows may form a circle standing alongside surrounding the calves on all sides, horns protruding outwards against the danger. The bulls may or may not participate in such a defence, most likely if the cows and calves are
of the reindeerbulls own "familygroup". But the horns is only used as a last defence when the animals have failed to avoid a threat in other ways.
So when threatened a reindeer always tries to flee from the danger. If there's a slope nearby it will try to run uphill -the only exception is when they get seriously stressed and will run in a straight line. It's not uncommon to see Scandinavian cardrivers chasing reindeers for miles on the northern roads, instead of slowing down and manuevering the car to let the reindeers leave the road: -A sad fact.
We don't know how the reindeerhusbandry originated, but we can actually get an insight by turning to the western hemisphere. In northern Yukon of Canada there's remains of old logs that form massive constructed structures which was used to catch caribou some
These corrals were designed to capture migrating caribou. The animals entered at a place where the corrals were about five kilometres wide. The corrals gradually narrowed until the caribou were trapped, providing a convenient bin of food.
The reindeercoralls of today are in fact not so different, except for the use of modern materials, we Samis have in fact only added one refinement to the structure which are found in the narrow end. Here you find a set of doors or opening where one either take a reindeer for slaughter or in others release the animal to freedom so it will get a chance to grow bigger or to breed.
No less than 1/4 of Earth landsurface is used for reindeerherding, but most of this area is in the remote arctic and subarctic where farming and other human enterprises have been all but impossible until recent times.
Nowadays this northern region is exploited in a number of other ways such as foresting and mining which causes problems for the reinderkeepers.
Present and future utilization of the large quantities of oil found in northern Russia are one example of a major threat to the reindeerherding cultures.
The domestication and breeding of the reindeers was made by the indigenous peoples of each area, (although it might be pointed out that all or many of these peoples might share a common past -further studies will have to clearify if this is the case) and it is still mostly an indigenous enterprise, but you can find non-native people who works with reindeers in Russia as well as on reindeerfarms in Finland, France, Japan, USA and Canada. But such examples are exceptions, most reindeerherders are from the local indigenous cultures, and these cultures are in fact dependent on the reindeers for their continued survival.
before recorded history the Sami's developed an almost symbiotic relationship with the reindeers. During the long wintermonths food and other useful commodities could get scarce, the Sami's therefore always made the maximum use of the reindeers. Aside from the use as a transport animal, the reindeers used to be milked. All parts of a butchered animal that could be used for food was eaten, inluding the intestines, something that provided the Sami's with vitamines that would have been impossible to obtain in other ways
for the largest part of the year.
Tendons and sinews where -and still are- used for sewing, both for putting together the coneshaped "tents" Laitok/Lavvu as well for creating shoes and clothing. Whereas the Sami tents nowadays are made of bought fabric, reindeer skin is still used for clothes and shoes -even such items that are used in daily life. Reindeer are marked with a set of marks cut in the ears, such marks shows ownership but also makes identification easier for the owner who can be an individual, a family or a community.
The reindeer graze throughout the year in areas called reindeer herding districts which vary in size from 1000 to 5 000 km2 in Scandinavia.
A closeup of a harness or geasatahkh
and below right when used on a reindeer.
Bjorklund, Ivar. 1990. "Sami Reindeer Pastoralism as an Indigenous Resource Management System in Northern Norway: A Contribution to the Common Property Debate." Development and Change 21:75-86. Also presented at the second annual conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property, Winnipeg, Manitoba, September 26-29, 1991.
Brantenberg, Tarje. 1995. "Indigenous Rights and Norwegian Law; The Problem of Sami Customary Law and Pastoral Rights in Norway." Presented at "Reinventing the Commons," the fifth annual conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property, May 24-28, 1995, Bodoe, Norway.
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