Report from Nick Tyler
Reindeer Studies in Svalbard
Samisk deltagelse i reintelling på Svalbard
A census of reindeer in Adventdalen, Svalbard, has been carried out annually every summer since 1979. The work is part of a long term ecological study of the persistent instability in numbers and the regulation of the abundance of Svalbard reindeer. In 2000, three young Saami were included in the team of assistants. The aim was to give them insight into one of the activities of a University with a view to quickening their interest in higher education and to provide those, in particular, from reindeer herding families with an opportunity to see a new type of reindeer in an unusual ecological setting and to observe and discuss reindeer research. This was repeated annually in 2001-6 and, owing to the success of the scheme, it was decided to invite young herders to assist with the count in 2007.
Recruitment of personnel
Three young herders who joined this year’s census were apprentices registered at the Office of Education for Reindeer Husbandry (Opplæringskontoret for reindrift, OKR) and are currently taking their Certificate of Reindeer Husbandry (Fagbrev i Reindrift). They were contacted by OKR whence they were recommended to me.
The team consisted of:
Lasse Andre Anti 19 yrs, (Karasjok)
Lajla Helene Eira 19 yrs, (Karasjok)
Elle Karen Anne Sara 20 yrs, (Kautokeino)
Besides these three, the group included Maja Stade Aarønæs and Øystein Saga (Norwegian University of Life Sciences) and myself.
The team travelled to Svalbard on 18th June and returned on 2nd July. Fieldwork was based at the field station of the Department of Arctic Biology 12 km outside Longyearbyen.
The work in Svalbard consisted of counting and classifying all reindeer in Adventdalen (175 km2) in Svalbard and examining all carcasses of reindeer that had died there during the previous 12 months. Assistants were taught all the relevant disciplines for a field study of this kind, including field safety and defense against polar bears, maintenance of a field station, the systematic taking and recording of field observations and simple pathological investigation of dead reindeer – as well as receiving an introduction into Svalbard’s history and natural history.
The count itself involved approximately 370 man.hours’ fieldwork, each member walking on average approximately 8 hours each day for eight days. Besides fieldwork, everyone participated in all manner of routine maintenance activities at the field station. The daily workload was, therefore, substantially greater than is apparent from the number of hours walked.
The principle purpose of the stipend is to encourage young reindeer herders towards higher education. This can be achieved in two ways: first, by direct encouragement of those who join the scheme and, second, indirectly through the effect their experience has on the young people they meet at home afterwards. A secondary purpose is to spread information about the interests and activities of the University of Tromsø among reindeer herders. A third purpose, this year, was to support the work of OKR. This year’s project showed that word is spreading that the University of Tromsø is endeavouring to attract reindeer herders to higher education. The close link achieved with OKR and the widespread interest in the scheme is evidence of this. The reports written by the three apprentices will count in their advancement to their Certificate of Reindeer Husbandry.
Performance in the field
All three young herders quickly learned our field techniques and procedures and performed these well. All three found the walking well within their capacity and were serious about complying the University’s safety regulations and code of practice for fieldwork. Two brought their own weapons for protection against polar bears. One borrowed a weapon from the project. Only heavy calibre weapons will do and this was enforced. Weapon training was necessary.
This year’s team was cheerful, helpful and willing. People carried out such dull tasks as washing floors and clearing rubbish on their own initiative which was excellent. The current scheme for taking young herdes to Svalbard to give them the opportunity to observe University activity by assisting in field research is a success. All three received a glimpse of University life and research which they had not had previously. All spoke with me and achieved their own ‘personal contact’ within the University. They also established excellent contact with the two students from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.
The idea of attracting young Saami to the University of Tromsø by engaging them as assistants on field research remains good although its potential clearly has not been fully exploited. The establishment of a close link with Office of Education for Reindeer Husbandry is a useful step.
I am grateful to the
Centre for Sami Studies in the University of Tromsø and to SNSK for financial support for this work.
Anti, L.A. (2007) Reinsdyr telling in Svalbard. Rapport til Opplæringskontoret for reindrift og Senter for samiske studier ved Universitetet i Tromsø.
Eira, L.H. (2007) Reintelling i Svalbard. Rapport til Opplæringskontoret for reindrift og Senter for samiske studier ved Universitetet i Tromsø.