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Climate change forces Taimyr reindeer to shift migration timings

07 august 2020
An unprecedentedly early migration of wild reindeer has been recorded in Taimyr. WWF-Russia experts associate anomalous animal behavior with global climate changes in the Arctic.

A video filmed by a resident of the village of Khatanga (Taimyr Dolgano-Nenets District of Krasnoyarsk Territory) appeared online last week. It shows a herd of migrating reindeer running right through the streets of the village.

According to locals, many females were with cubs, which had not yet gained strength. Some reindeer died trying to swim across the Khatanga River, which is more than a kilometer wide. About two hundred young animals could not overcome the water barrier or, exhausted, remained on the shore near the village, the deer scattered around the neighborhood or became the object of hunting for stray dogs.

Experts do not see anything surprising in the fact that the animals came to the settlement - the migration routes of the wild reindeer pass through this territory. But such an early date is recorded for the first time – usually animals return to the north two weeks or even a month later.

“This is truly an extraordinary event,” notes WWF-Russia expert Sergey Verkhovets. - It is difficult to name a specific reason yet. For example, there is a version that animals go south to escape mosquitoes and other blood-sucking insects, which are especially numerous this year. But in general, we see that such anomalies are caused by climate change. And this is not a hypothetical, but, along with poaching, a very real threat to the Taimyr population of wild reindeer and the Arctic ecosystems in general."

The current incident is not the first time when Taimyr reindeer experience the effects of climate change. For example, last year the staff Taimyr Nature Reserves during one of the expeditions had to help young reindeer to cross the rivers, which opened too early, and the banks were washed out.

“We have to admit that the changing climate will bring more and more phenomena that have not been encountered in the Arctic before. After all, it’s not a general increase in the average temperature, but an increase in the number of anomalous phenomena - early frosts or opening rivers, heat waves and, as a result, fires and so on,” explains Alexei Kokorin, director of the WWF-Russia Climate and Energy program. “All this will definitely affect the state of ecosystems and the question of the extent to which nature will be able to adapt to new conditions remains open.”

Over the past 10 years, the Taimyr population of wild reindeer has almost halved. Today, there are about 450 thousand individuals, and experts note its annual decline - there is a risk to completely lose this unique biological resource for the population of Taimyr, the north of Evenkia and the western regions of Yakutia in a few years.

WWF has been helping protect these Arctic species for several years – helps to conduct surveys and expeditions to study wild reindeer, provides support to state inspectors in anti-poaching work, actively interacts with the indigenous population of the region.