The reindeer massacre

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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)

Høstslakting, Saanti sijte. Sylan, Tydal/Meråker.

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.

Høstslakting, Saanti sijte. Sylan, Tydal/Meråker.

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.

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50 thoughts on “The reindeer massacre

  1. So sad, I wonder isn’t there any way to fight this disease beside killing these beautiful creatures!
    Here’s an idea, if they could come up with a communicable vaccine that could be given to some reindeer who would spread it to the rest of the population…instead of killing them. With all the great scientist in the world you would think it could get done for this and other situations…just an idea

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    1. There are many dilemmas in this case. There is probably reason to act quickly, but at the same time it seems too hasty to quickly kill all the animals when there is so little knowledge about this disease. The authorities have apparently taken very few samples in nearby flocks, so they do not know if the disease has spread. If it has, they should take the time to get more knowledge, to see if there will be resistance, to develop vaccines. And most important: Why did it suddenly occure in the Norwegian wilderness? Till they know that answer it can happen again, anywhere.

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    2. Yes, it is sometimes complicated to give an answer quickly, Ancientfoods. For different reasons. One of them is the time difference. Some of you read blogs while we are sleeping. But thanks a lot, I always read everything.

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  2. Can’t like this. I don’t know enough about the disease or the reasoning, so I can’t comment on the decision, still, I agree that killing that many animals is a step that should not be taken lightly.

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  3. Such a sad state of affairs. From what you say Bente, it sounds like they don’t know enough about the spread of this disease and which animals are infected. Surely there is the capability of isolating these 2,200 reindeer and testing each one before culling?

    I mean to say, if they can shoot them, then surely they can catch them?.

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    1. They know nothing about the spread of this disease. It is possible to isolate 2.200 reindeers, but it is a big job. They needs huge areas in the mountains, and it would need extreme fencing and/or guarding. They already did, for part of the area. The Sámi people have the knowledge how to handle these animals, but I don’t know if this knowledge are used. You can’t put these animals in a barn, they are adapted to the Arctic winter. Thank you Vicki.

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  4. The first case of CWD in Texas was found in a mule deer in 2012. Now, it has moved into the whitetail deer population, and there’s tremendous concern about it. Whether there’s anything helpful in this article, I don’t know, but I suspect your officials are paying attention to the spread of disease elsewhere, and various methods of containment. One of the problems with our whitetail population is that hunters often transport their kill much farther than deer naturally would roam.

    It’s a terrible problem. I hope a more acceptable solution can be found.

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    1. Tremendous corncern, sure there is, both here and there. And our officials are certainly paying attention. What I can’t understand is why there seem to be no energy spent to how this suddenly happened in the Norwegian wilderness. On another continent.

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  5. Bonjour Bente,
    Je suis bien triste de découvrir que tu es confronté à la même situation que nous avons vécu ici avec les bouquetins (capra ibex) que nous avons dans nos massifs. Il y a à peine deux ans, dans un secteur ils ont été éradiqué à cause de la maladie brucellose. La prise de bonnes décisions ou de bonnes directives n’a pas eu lieu et la vie des bouquetins s’est jouée en fonction de nos politiciens. Aujourd’hui encore, alors que le massif commence à se repeupler très doucement, ils parlent d’en abattre encore.
    J’espère que les autorités de ton pays vont se rendre compte qu’il y a des choses à faire, à analyser au lieu de continuer ce massacre. Ici, ils n’ont fait que des erreurs ….

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    1. Bonjour Val,
      Je crains que vous ayez raison, il est faux de tirer sur tous les animaux en pleine nature, sans analyser la situation, essayer de comprendre comment l’infection s’est terminée sur une montagne dans le désert norvégien. Sur un continent complètement différent de celui des États-Unis, le seul endroit où il était auparavant. (désolé mon mauvais français). Triste d’entendre parler les bouquetins, si beaux animaux. Merci pour ton commentaire.

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  6. I always look forward to the occasional posting you make Reindeer, for us a magical animal. But sad to read the news you have reported. I guess a cull is the only real solution if the disease is contagious a means of limiting the spread whilst more research is done. With Foot and Mouth Disease in the UK it was the only (very traumatic) way to contain the outbreaks….but in our case we are dealing with farm animals not wild animals free to roam. Keep us up to date as so far not seen anything in the International Press

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    1. There is not that much about this in our own press, and the nature- and animal organizations are only interested in wolf, year out, year in. I just found one article from October 2016, our government reminds hunters about the ban to import biological material used to attract deers etc. during hunting. Seems this could have made the transfer fra US to the Norwegian wilderness, but nobody talks about it. This is a hunters magazine, which is good. (In Norwegian): https://www.njff.no/nyheter/Sider/CWD-skrantesjuke-luktestoffer.aspx

      Liked by 1 person

  7. What a desperate and terrible situation. It’s interesting that when animals are involved we often resort to killing to contain a situation. If we think of the reindeer as people, what would be the best solution, I wonder?

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    1. I don’t think we should think of reindeers as people, but as living creatures of course. And even more, living creatures that might soon be extinct. I agree with you, this seems a hasty solution, but it in the same time, something had to be done. Thank you Gallivanta.

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  8. Such a depressing situation! I won’t pretend I understand how to deal with such an outbreak, but killing 10% of the remaining population of a species does sound hasty. Only time can tell whether this is the right thing to do or not, although whoever is right, our hope is that the mountain reindeer’s population will bounce back to a healthy level.

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    1. To make the population bounce back to a healthy level, is part of the plan, after years of keeping these mountains free from reindeers. But who nows if they will succeed, and anyway it will be different genes (but same species). The reindeer population is habituated their specific area. It is a nomadic animal, that moves through the seasons, a migrant who needs to know where is the best area for calving, where is the best for finding food in the hardest of winter. Adapted through thousands of years. Thank you Bama.

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  9. So sad. I understand it’s a difficult situation, but with so many people with knowledge of disease it’s hard to believe this would be the only good solution. I hope you post brings this to the attention of more people that can help in a positive manner and maybe come up with a solution to save them. If this is the only way, I certainly hope it saves the rest of the herds. Beautiful photographs.

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  10. A powerful and moving post Bente. You may remember the BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) outbreak we had in Britain in the late ’80s. Otherwise known as mad cow disease, many thousands of cows were slaughtered and the export of beef from the UK was stopped. The disease has been eradicated here and now British beef can be exported but whole herds were slaughtered and many farmers lost their livelihoods. I’m so sad to hear of this situation in Norway. The solution in the UK was severe but the disease was eradicated. This is such an emotive and difficult thing. I really hope that a solution can be found that doesn’t mean healthy animals are slaughtered. Unfortunately in the UK they were.

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    1. Healthy animals will be slaughtered. They have found 12 infected animals since the first last year, and even the healthy ones will be destroyd, not eaten. They say they don’t have time to take care of the meat. That is, the animals shot in the regular reindeer hunting in this area earlier this autumned would be eaten, after controlling them. And yes, I remeber BSE. It was goog they eradicated that terrible disease, and for sure it was a terrible time for the farmers and for the country. This is different though. They don’t know how the disease came to Norway (I guess with infected, biological material from infected animals in US), and the Norwegian wild reindeers are the last ones of its kind. I hope like everybode else the disease will be eradicated, but they don’t know if it is already in other regions. Thank you for your concern and information Chillbrook.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I just saw your post today, Bente. So terribly sad. This is not an easy thing to solve, but I agree with you – this sounds hasty… Could they not have used testing? Or that would take too long time? After all they are the last ones of their breed. Please keep us posted.

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  12. I’m sorry that your first post in a long while is on a sad topic. You’ve reminded me that some years ago I came out of my house one morning and found a white-tailed deer sitting on the ground. That’s not unusual in my part of Austin, but this deer was obviously distressed, drooling and breathing heavily. It didn’t have the energy to run away when it saw me, but stayed there and let me come right up to it. Soon the deer couldn’t even hold its head up any more, and shortly afterwards it died. I don’t think that was a case of chronic wasting disease, because the deer wasn’t thin.

    Again, I’m sorry that chronic wasting disease has crossed the ocean to Norway. THat’s not the kind of American export you want.

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    1. It is always sad to see sick amimals who suffer. Nothing makes me more sad. And for wild ones we usually don’t interfer. With the CWD it is different. At least I hope they succeed; getting rid of it. Nobody knows for sure. Thank you very much for your concern and comment Steve.

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  13. Hi
    So sad story ! It reminds me the bouquetins (alpine ibex) here in Haute Savoie where I live.
    SImilar story with humans, wolfes and hunters …
    Where is the truth ??
    Greetings
    Den

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  14. Oh my goodness, such a tragic story and I know what you are talking about in regard to CWD. It scares the dickens out of those in wild herd management and they go aggressively in trying to contain it without the research to back it up. Any updates on how the testing went?

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