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Russia is home to the largest number of reindeer in the world, but soon it may decrease considerably. Why are environmentalists so concerned? If there is no deer, there is no Dolgans, Evenks and other peoples. Indigenous and small-numbered peoples of the North make one with the environment because of their lifestyle. The loss of this element will destroy the traditional lifestyle of many indigenous and small-numbered peoples of the North, which has developed for centuries in the North of Yakutia.

Hunting for tundra populations of wild reindeer has been their main occupation since ancient times. In addition to providing food, it plays an important role in preserving their identity – this is the basis of their culture. Besides the social aspect, there is also a biological one: wild reindeer is a leading component in the biogeocenosis (the existing system of interaction between living and inanimate nature) of Taimyr, Evenkia and Yakutia, which forms the basis of the Far North’s ecosystem. Without reindeer, the whole system operation is impossible. If uncontrolled hunting, scattered data on the actual number of reindeer, non-compliance with hunting standards, and unreasonable quotas for a wild reindeer hunting of different populations are not addressed, they can lead to the species extinction.

Accounting problems

Now the population of wild reindeer is estimated at 84,000 individuals and is practically the same as in 2008. The information is confirmed by the Institute for Biological Problems affiliated with the Yakutsk Scientific Center of the Siberian Branch of the RAS. Scientists admit that one of the main problems is the lack of a unified system for monitoring the reindeer population. Extensive accounting by air on common methodologies with the involvement of experienced specialists is necessary. This way, it is possible to realistically assess the state of the species and develop effective measures for its conservation and reasonable use in the Taimyr, Evenkia and Yakutia. The last accounting by air was more than 10 years ago.

For several years, the Ministry of Ecology of Yakutia has been monitoring the population of wild reindeer with the support of ALROSA. Over the years, the company has built reindeer crossing points at its industrial sites. When the animals are crossing sites, traffic on technological roads is blocked.

As the ecologists of the Institute for Biological Problems of Cryolithozone SB RAS explain, females unite whole herds around themselves. Tracking collars that were put on 10 female deer in 2018 helped scientists track the movement of about 15,000 animals at a time. The chipping itself took place according to a well-established scheme. The collars were put on animals while they were crossing the Olenek river. In February 2019, ALROSA signed a 2019-2022 cooperation agreement with the Ministry for Nature Protection of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia). This means that they will continue to work on assessing the state of wild reindeer tundra populations and organizing activities to protect and restore the number of animals together.

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Fighting poachers

The barbaric nature of poaching and the amount of illegal hunting to obtain valuable deer derivatives is a separate issue. The results of recent accounting by air confirm that this problem needs to be addressed as soon as possible. Poachers do not disdain to kill whole herds of deer sometimes only for the sake of antlers, which are used for medical purposes, and the remains are simply thrown into the tundra.

Now, there is West special forces equipped with cars, motor boats and snowmobiles for raids. The deer monitoring program plays an important role in catching poachers.

Chipping deer

Wild animals chipping is one of the most advanced and promising technologies. It means using collars or rings that allow wireless transmission of data on the location of animals. A system for monitoring deer migrations using Russian-made satellite transmitters was developed and implemented in 2010. The use of data from satellite transmitters can significantly save money on aviation, and flights are not random anymore. So, counting and taking photographs of the animals is easier now. It is important that the monitoring will help to keep the track of the Leno-Olenek wild reindeer population herd numbering about 90 thousand individuals.

Since 2010, more than 100 deer have been chipped and not a single animal has died. At the same time, the healthiest deer are selected for chipping. Experts note another important advantage of such collars: after its battery dies, the collar is automatically detached from the animal.

"We have been chipping wild reindeer with ALROSA for several years. Experience shows that putting a tracking collar on an animal is less stressful for it when it is crossing big water bodies. The thing is that deer slow down while crossing the river. So, stopping them, fixing them in a safe position and putting a collar on them is not difficult. The animal doesn’t feel pain. The process takes about five minutes. After the collar is secured and the sensor has started to work, we make sure that the equipment doesn’t restrain the deer’s movements. After that, we release the animal and it continues to migrate with the herd," said Nikolay Mamaev, junior researcher at the Institute for Biological Problems of Cryolithozone SB RAS.

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Do not forget about the loss of control over the population of wild reindeer. This leads to a serious threat of domestic reindeer herding extinction. The problem is that migrating groups of wild deer lead away domestic herds. As a result, we see the impoverishment of indigenous peoples and the loss of their traditional lifestyle. In this case, equipping wild reindeer with satellite tracking collars comes in handy. Reindeer herders receive timely information about the approach of the wild reindeer and lead the domestic animals out of their way.

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With the support of the diamond giant, Yakutia’s pioneering research on chipping and monitoring reindeer was the first in Russia. It provides an opportunity to monitor the movements of the Leno-Olenek wild reindeer population.

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The Leno-Olenek wild reindeer population lives in the West of Yakutia between the Lena and Anabar rivers, mainly within the Anabar, Bulun, Olenek, Zhigansk, Mirny and Nyurba districts. Sometimes, reindeer winter in Vilyuysk and Verkhnevilyuysk districts. The population inhabits the area of 330 thousand km2. The Taimyr population inhabits the area of almost 1.5 million km2: from the Yenisei river’s left bank in the West to the Anabar river in the East, and in the South the herds go beyond the Arctic circle to almost 65 degrees north latitude.  Sometimes, this population comes to winter in Olenek district of Yakutia.

By Andrey Shilov

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