Norway’s Iconic Reindeer Face Challenges Beyond Climate Change

How modernity, politics and competition for land undermine the well-being of the animals and their Sami herders

Norway’s Iconic Reindeer Face Challenges Beyond Climate Change
Reindeer grazing on the slopes just outside Tromso, Norway. (Kang-Chun Cheng)

As I moved across the still-frozen Varanger Peninsula on a snowmobile in Finnmark, northern Norway, in late April 2019, green pastures were the last thing that came to mind. I was tagging alongside local reindeer herder Mikkel Anders Smuk to locate his reindeer and guide them toward the Barents Sea. In anticipation of the changing seasons, it was time for the animals to head toward their coastal pastures. Mikkel assured me that, in a few weeks’ time, winter would melt into spring. Then, this whole place would look different.

Finnmark was a chance for me to extend my postgraduate fellowship and stay out in the field a little longer. I had spent the past year researching how Sami reindeer herders were adapting to climate challenges in northern Norway and Finland, interested in how this ancient pastoral system was responding to technology and bureaucracy. Initially, I couldn’t help but assume that traditional knowledge was at odds with technology. But my experiences living with various Sami families were showing me a hybrid livelihood, where herders used Snapchat to share not only their locations, but also record instances of eagles preying on young reindeer or herding them off cliffs then feeding on the carcasses.

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