Close Encounters with reindeers

Now is the time to go to the norwegian mountains, if you want close contact with reindeers. From about mid September till mid October there is mating season for reindeers. You never come as close to them as you might these days.

The males, the reindeer bulls, are busy chasing the females, or fighting other males, and do not react to disturbances as much as other times of the year.

Myself I went to Teveldalen, that is close to the crossing of the border to Sweden at Storlien in the beginning of this season. Some reindeer belonging to the sami group of Saanti Sijte (Essand Reinbeitedistrikt) had crossed over to another sami group, to Færen, were they did not belong. So the sami people were busy transporting reindeers to the other side of the valley. But they also slaghtered some animals. Since this is their only source of income and traditional source of food.

To be able to do this job, if it is slaughtering or transportation, they have to chase the animals into a small fence, where they can be sorted. This does not always succeed, like in the picture above when the animals turned and broke through. Then you try again.

The sami people prefer to slaughter the big bulls before the mating season because at this time they are at their best, big and muscular after feeding well all summer. After fighting and mating they will be skinny for months, if they survive. At the same time they can not slaughter a bull that has started mating, because the meat is inedible, and taste terrible.

The best way to determine whether a bull has started the mating season is to smell his breath, as done with this big, bull. And he was ready for mating, yes, and got to live!

This photo shows a reindeer “family”, a bull, a female and a calf. They do not actually live like a family like this. Most of the year they live in small or bigger herds, going around in the mountains as they wish, and as their instincts tell them. And in the springtime, when the calves are born, the mother and calf wander alone, without any male reindeers close to them.

And these reindeers have vast areas to roam. The nine families in the Saanti Sijte group have about 4.500 reindeers (winter) and do their herding in the mountains of seven communities in three different counties, from Hedmark in the south to Nord-Trøndelag in the north.

Anyone who wants to know more about reindeer herding can find information at reindriftsforvaltningen (norwegian). A link about sami reindeer herding in Norway, Sweden and Finland here. And there is also a portal about reindeer herding internationally, The International Centre of Reindeer Husbandry, and here is the link.

Want to see more pictures about reindeer herding and sami life? I have a gallery that shows more of my images.

12 thoughts on “Close Encounters with reindeers

  1. It’s very rare to see a Reindeer here in the states, even in zoos. I remember my first time I ever saw a Reindeer, someone brought one to our school and let us pet and learn about it. I was amazed at how small they are! They’re truly awesome creatures and I’d love to see one again. I like that their horns are soft, not hard like elk like I have where I live.🙂 Thank you for sharing this, it’s nice to see the other side of the world!

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    1. Yes, Ember, awesome, and smaller than imagined. But I hope there are not too many in zoos, at least not in southern countries/states. Reindeers are adepted to extreme cold, and they hate warm temperatures. Even in a norwegian summer which is rearly very warm, they flee to the mountain tops in search of snow that is not melted to stay there if the sun is too warm for them.

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      1. Oh, no. None in the southern states that I’ve seen so far. When I visited Minnesota I saw them in the zoo, and the person was visiting from another state who had the reindeer that was brought to the school.🙂 I had no idea they were that attracted to the cold though! I would have thought they’d like maybe some warmth but perhaps with their thick coats it’s not so pleasant for them. That’s very interesting.

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  2. A great insight into the world of reindeer herders and Sami people. I have been to Swedish Lapland this summer. I wasn’t lucky and didn’t see any reindeers, but I have seen several huge herding stations and slaughterhouses. It is pretty fascinating🙂

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    1. It isn’t so easy to see reindeers, since they are roaming free in the mountains or in the woods almost all year. But sometimes you can see them from the car while crossing mountains, as I did going north through Sweden and a little bit of Finland, and often around here (Central Norway close to the border to Sweden) in spring and autumn when they are migrating. There are some who have tamed reindeers and use them in more touristic settings, but usually not in summer. Reindeers are made for extreme cold and hate to be in a village or enclosure during summer, actually it is very bad for them. They need to be able to run to the mountain tops when the weather gets warm (not that often). Thank you for your comment Patricia.

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