Via The Guardian: Reindeer to be culled in Russia’s far north due to anthrax outbreak. Excerpt:
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 indigenous peoples in the Yamal-Nenets region. Its 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 global 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 will 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, Vladimir Bogdanov, director of the Urals Institute of Plant and Animal Ecology, told Rossiyskaya Gazeta. At least 200,000 reindeer need to be culled, he said.
Reindeer overpopulation compounds the anthrax risk. Over-grazing reduces the plant cover, which serves as a buffer to protect the permafrost from thawing in the summer sun. In addition, reindeer grazing where plant cover is thin tend to eat soil along with lichen, becoming infected that way, Bogdanov said.
“If steps aren’t taken, there will be a mass die-off in the near future,” he said. “The animals won’t hold out against lack of fodder and various diseases.”
But reducing the reindeer population is a thorny political issue, since that is how many indigenous people earn a living.
Following Kobylkin’s remarks, reindeer herder Yeiko Serotetto started a petition to 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 hadn’t 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 far north has led to increasing conflicts with indigenous peoples in recent years.