This is a sad story. 40.000 years ago the mountain reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus) roamed all over Europe. Today you find this species only in Western Scandinavia, that is in Norway. We have a particular responsibility to manage and protect the last remnant of the wild tundra reindeer in Europe. Now 2.200 of them have to be killed, and the mission started last week. Hunters employed by the state will shoot the animals, helicopters take them out of the area, and the meat (among the best meat of this world) will be destroyd after testing.
In 2016, the first case of Chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Europe was found in a Nordfjella free ranging reindeer in Southern Norway. Scientists surveyed the diseased female reindeer until the reindeer died and used the carcass to isolate the prions. The main origin of CWD to Norway is still unknown. Later that year two infected wild moose were found around 300 km north from the first. And later again, two more reindeers in the same area as the first. All in all, three reindeers and two moose infected with a terrible disease.
CWD is a a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE), a prion-disease. A very serious situation. all agree about that. But some experts, and a lot of local people are upset with the chosen solution: to kill all the wild reindeers in the area. That is 2200 reindeers, 10 percent of the European wild reindeers left in the world. (These pictures are reindeers of the Sámi reideer herders in Central and Northern Norway. The same animal, but domesticated)
The mountains Nordfjella is close to the huge national park Hardangervidda, where there are more wild reindeers. Scientists and the government fear the disease will spread to other wild reindeers, that it will destroy the Sámi reindeer husbandry, and even spread to other species like deer and moose (two animals already infected, but not with the same CWD as the reindeers). That is why they made this dramatic decision: to kill all the animals in Nordfjella.
It is a mystery how this disease arrived on a mountaintop in Norway. Veterinaries at Norwegian Institute for Nature Research tells Nature magazine that it is unlikely that the disease was imported. They suspect that it might have arisen spontaneously, or jumped the species barrier from a prion disease in sheep called scrapie, although such a jump has never been seen before. Other experts, and not least, several politicians, hunters and landowners in the Nordfjella region, believe the decision is wrong. Because scientists know very little. Nobody knows how the disease occurred in Norway. There is rumors that the infection may have brought here with animal material used to lure animals during hunting.
The CWD disease was first identified in 1967 in a closed herd of captive mule deer in contiguous portions of northeastern Colorado. It has since then been diagnosed in captive and free-ranging cervids in 24 American states and two Canadian provinces. Plus in South Korea, where importation of infected deer from USA was the contamination source.
Even how frightening this disease is, I find the decision to kill 10 percent of the remaining wild reindeers in Europe, all in once, hasty. Because they have hardly tested reindeers in nearby areas, and since they don’t know how this started, they don’t know if more is on the way. Others wonder if not the animals can develop resistance to the disease. It is not up to me to decide. But I wonder about the environmental groups. Many of them are crying about wolves, every year and almost every day. The Scandinavia wolves went extinct more than hundred years ago, and the wolves here today are migrants from Russia, who have a very big population. A complete different situation to the European reindeers. There are less than 25.000 of them, and they live only in Norway. So what do the WWF and the other organizations say: Nothing.
There are more pictures of reindeers on this link.