Wild reindeer is one of the most significant Arctic species. Its role cannot be overestimated both for the normal functioning of the ecosystems and for the life of the indigenous peoples of the North. In the Nenets, Chukchi, Saami and other nationalities food, clothing, life, culture are directly related to the reindeer. They simply cannot exist without the animal.
In Russia, these species inhabit the north of the Russian-European plain, Ural Mountains, Siberian taiga and the Far East. It lives both in flat and mountainous areas, in the forest tundra and coniferous forests.
The number of wild reindeer in Russia is no more than 1 million species. The largest population lives in the central Arctic - Taimyr, Evenkia, Yakutia - about 480 thousand animals. In addition, the Taimyr population is unique on a global scale - it is the largest migratory population of mammals, covering more than 3 thousand kilometers during the year.
Unfortunately, experts come to disappointing conclusions - the number of wild deer is declining in all northern regions of the country. So, compared with the 90s of the last century, the Taimyr population was reduced by half. And if the negative trend continues, the number of animals may soon become several times smaller.
What threatens a wild reindeer?
Mass poaching is the main threat to the Taimyr population of wild reindeer. And it is conducted in the most barbaric way. For example, in the spring of 2017, during a raid organized with the support of WWF Russia, more than 800 illegal wild reindeer hunting sites were discovered. According to experts, poachers killed about 20 thousand animals on the wintering grounds.
This is not a single case. In the winter, reindeers are poached using snowmobiles and automatic rifles in places where they survive on winter pastures. Usually poachers are well armed and equipped.
In June - July, a critical time comes for adult male reindeers, which are caught on water crossings. Poachers cut off young growing horns (antlers). These are famous for their healing effects and are bought in many countries around the world. Scientists estimate that up to 70% of reindeers die from blood loss and from sepsis after such a “procedure”. If animals survive, they lose their reproductive function. Often, males are just killed for antlers.
During the year, herds of wild reindeer pass over 3,000 km. The instinct of migration was developed by millennia of journeys. Now this process is highly susceptible to threats arising due to climate change — the timing and migration paths are shifting, the food supply is changing. Early opening of the rivers leads to the fact that the reindeers do not have time to get to the usual places of calving, and childbirth takes place on the shore before the crossing. Newborn calves have to swim across the river. Many of them drown or die due to hypothermia. Pregnant females are also supercooled when crossing the rivers, which are up to 4 km wide.
What does WWF do?
- WWF-Russia supports wildlife crime inspectors of the Krasnoyarsk region and Yakutia with the equipment and fuel which helps to conduct additional anti-poaching raids and avoid mass slaughter of reindeer, including cutting antlers at river crossings.
- Nature protected areas of the region also receive technical assistance: new vehicles (motor boats and snowmobiles), satellite phones and radios, equipment for photo and video recording. This allows to patrol the territory and monitor the state of the reindeer population more effectively.
- Trainings and seminars are held for inspectors on new nature conservation technologies. For example, last year experts from Yakutia and the Krasnoyarsk Region were trained in the use of SMART technology to protect and monitor wild reindeer.
- With the support of WWF-Russia, reindeer are tagged with satellite collars. With their help, experts study the migration routes of and prevent cases of poaching. In two years, more than 20 animals have been tagged.
In the nearest future WWF-Russia plans to develop and coordinate with federal and regional authorities updated methods of conducting reindeer surveys, support the implementation of a joint large-scale monitoring of the Taimyr population, help improve the regulatory framework, ensure that the interests of indigenous peoples of the North are taken into account in biodiversity conservation plans.