Census of reindeer in Adventdalen

Report from Nick Tyler
Project 200300843-33

Report from the annual census of reindeer in Adventdalen, 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 my team of assistants. The reasons for bringing along young Saami were (a) to give them an insight into one of the activities of a University with a view to quickening their interest in higher education and (b) in those cases in which they came from reindeer herding families, to provide the project with qualified assistants.  The experiment was repeated in 2001 and 2002  owing to the success of the scheme, it was decided to invite young herders to assist with the count in 2003.

Recruitment of personnel
Two members of this year’s team, Elias Kant and Ante Per Oskal were apprentices registered at Opplæringskontoret for reindrift at which they are both are currently taking their Fagbrev i Reindrift.  Both were contacted by Opplæringskontoret for reindrift and recommended to me from there.  A third member, Cecelie Myrnes, was enrolled at Reindriftsskolen in Kautokeino.  She intends subsequent to take her Fagbrev i Reindrift.  Reindeer herder Nils Ante Eira  contacted me directly, having heard independently about my scheme for taking Saami to Svalbard.  The final team consisted of:

Elias Kant,                         21 yrs,                        (Nerskogen)

Ante Per Oskal                  21 yrs,                        (Kautokeino)

Cecelie Myrnes,                 27 yrs,                        (Kautokeino)

Nils Ante Eira                     28 yrs,                        (Tennevoll)

Besides these four, the group included Dr. Mads Forchhammer (University of Copenhagen) and myself.

The team of six persons travelled to Svalbard on 19th June.   Fieldwork was based at the field station of the Department of Arctic Biology 12 km outside Longyearbyen.

Work was carried out as follows:

Arbeidet består hovedsakelig av telling og klassifisering av rein, samt undersøkelser av reinkadaver i Adventdalen (150 km2) på Svalbard.  De skal få en skikkelig opplæring i alle de forskjellig feltdisipliner som høre til et feltøkologisk studium, blant annet: felt sikkerhet med forsvar mot isbjørn, drift av en isolert feltstasjon, å gjøre systematiske biologiske iakttagelser samt korrekt registrering og senere gjennomgang av disse, patologiske undersøkelser, prøvetakning og diagnosering av dødårsak hos reinkadaver, samt å bli kjent med Svalbards spesielle historie og natur.

The count itself involved 315 man.hours’ fieldwork, each member walking on average 6.8 hours each day for eight days.  In addition, my assistants participated in carcass work, weapon training and all manner of routine maintenance activities at the field station.

Achieved objective?
The principle purpose of the stipend is to encourage young Saami 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 around in the Saami community.

A third purpose, this year, was to support the work of Opplæringskontoret for Reindrift.

This year’s project showed clearly that word is spreading that the University of Tromsø is endeavouring to attract young Saami to higher education.  The close link achieved with Opplæringskontoret for Reindrift is evidence of this. The reports written by the two apprentices will count in their advancement to their Fagbrev i Reindrift.  A further two Saami participants joined this year having heard about the scheme from others.

Performance in the field.
All four young Saami were cheerful, hard working and conscientious. They quickly learned our field techniques and procedures and performed these well. Their performance was, in fact, not necessarily ’better’ than that of well-motivated non-Saami students with a few days’ field experience but that in no way alters the fact that they did an excellent job counting reindeer!

All four found the walking well within their capacity and were serious about complying the University’s safety regulations and code of practice for fieldwork.

All three brought with them first class binoculars and were excellent at using them.  All brought their own weapons for protection against polar bears.  Only heavy calibre weapons will do and this was enforced.

This year’s team was cheerful, helpful and willing.  People even carried out such dull tasks as washing floors and clearing rubbish on their own initiative which was simply excellent.  I am convinced that the current scheme for taking young Saami to Svalbard to give them the opportunity to observe University activity by assisting in field research is a considerable success.  All four this year received a glimpse of University life and research which they had not previously confronted.   All four spoke with me and have achieved their own ‘personal contact’ within the University, a fact which – I hope – they will subsequently exploit.

Asking Opplæringskontoret for Reindrift to supply a list of names of potential candidates worked well.  A single potential drawback – that I was provided with little background information about the candidates proposed – was immaterial.

From 1979-2000 I never paid my assistants for their work.   The decision to pay a small wage in 2001 was a result of advice offered by Ellen Inga O. Hætta during discussion of the difficulty in recruiting Saami volunteers in 2000.   Interestingly, earning money was not a motive for any of the four Saami who joined this year’s team – but, of course, it was no hindrance, either!  Paying a modest wage helps in ensuring the seriousness of their work.  Kr. 3500 for 10 days’ hard work is modest!

Personnel Age limit / training.
This year’s group of Saami consisted of persons ranging in age from 21-28 years.  This is the right age group.  They can legally carry rifles and have the required stamina.

The potential dangers of the natural environment must never be underestimated: the work in Svalbard involves the unsupervised crossing of rivers, skree slopes and snowbeds, navigating in mountainous terrain with the continual threat of sudden fog and notoriously unreliable weather.’  There is a potential difficulty in enforcing unfamiliar safety regulations with reindeer herders who have their own way of behaving in the mountains.  However, no such problem arose this year: all behaved ‘by the book’ of their own volition.

The mixture of three Saami and three non-Saami worked well to ensure a proper mix of cultures.  One of six was a girl: should be more.  Women generally have the same stamina as men and are almost invariably more helpful with routine maintenance work.

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 Opplæringskontoret for Reindrift is a very useful step.

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