A governor in Russia’s far north has said the reindeer population will be reduced by 100,000 after an anthrax outbreak, but scientists have said twice as many need to be culled.
Reindeer herding is an important industry and livelihood for people in the Yamal-Nenets region.
Yamal-Nenets Governor Dmitry Kobylkin told state news agency RIA Novosti that about 100,000 reindeer would be culled this winter because overpopulation was straining a limited food supply and increasing the risk of anthrax infection.
An outbreak in Yamal-Nenets — the first since 1941 — killed a 12-year-old boy and more than 2,500 reindeer in July and August.
Scientists and officials blamed the awakening of the “zombie infection” on abnormally hot temperatures caused by climate change. Thawing of the permafrost soil can release the frozen bacteria.
“For [lack of fodder], some herder families take their animals to graze in restricted areas where there’s a high risk of Siberian plague infection,” Kobylkin said, using the Russian name for anthrax, a bacterial infection often transmitted through contaminated food or water.
Regional authorities are to buy the reindeer to be culled and process the meat, he said.
Officials have said reindeer meat exports could increase from 300 tonnes last year to 800 tonnes this year.
More than 750,000 reindeer live in the Yamal-Nenets region, even though the region’s pasture land can support only 386,000 reindeer without degrading, Urals Institute of Plant and Animal Ecology director Vladimir Bogdanov told Rossiyskaya Gazeta.
At least 200,000 reindeer need to be culled, he said.
However, reducing the reindeer population is a thorny political issue, since that is how many local people earn a living.
Following Kobylkin’s remarks, reindeer herder Yeiko Serotetto started a petition to Russian President Vladimir Putin calling for the reindeer population to be preserved.
He argued that there would be no risk of anthrax infection if the government had not stopped vaccinating reindeer against the disease in 2007 and said the cull was “motivated by the interests of the gas-drilling industry.”
Oil and gas exploration in the area has led to conflicts with local people in the past few years.
Kobylkin said regional authorities are “working on the issue of job placement for the local population” after the planned cull.
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