Internationsl Centre for Reindeer HusbandryASsociation of World Reindeer Herderssa-sucAbout Reindeer Husbandry
A Christmas Visit to Yamal Reindeer Herders
Written by Philip Burgess   
Monday, 21 December 2009 19:43
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nenets_thumbIn the western world this time of the year is heavily associated with the advent of Christmas, Santa Claus, reindeer and sledges, alongside a heavy dose of consumerism. So, despite cold temperatures and it being a time of low light, this makes it an excellent time to actually visit people who really do spend a great time of their year on sledges pulled by reindeer.

A small EALÁT  team (Svein Mathiesen, Anna Degteva and Philip Burgess) took the time to visit their Nenets EALÁT  partners in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, at the northern tip of the Ural Mountains in North west Siberia. The region includes the Yamal Peninsula  the largest area of reindeer husbandry in the world, where over 5000 Nenets, Khanti and some Komi practice nomadic reindeer herding throughout the year. The Yamal Peninsula is also the location of Russia’s most important energy project, the gas fields Bovanenkovo. The development of these nationally strategic resources will have major impacts on the future shape of reindeer husbandry in the region.
Taking advantage of the fact that most of the reindeer herding brigades on the pass through the village of Yar-Sale, the municipality administrative centre  the location of the only EU certified slaughter house and also the headquarters of reindeer herding enterprise ‘Yarsalinskoe’.  This gave the team the opportunity to connect with herders with whom the EALÁT  project has worked closely with over the years.
First stop though was in a very cold Salekhard (-42C!) with a visit to the Yamal Polar Agro-economic College. With about 500 students, this is a unique institution. The majority of the students are indigenous and many are from reindeer herding families. Among other studies the College offers training in basic veterinary practices, and as a result from a young age, students who pass through the college are equipped with a  wide  variety of practical veterinary skills that are essential in the field for the care and treatment of reindeer. As herders are on the tundra, often far from veterinary care these are essential tundra skills. The team met with the commited Director of the College Sergei V. Bubenshikov.
Thanks to a close cooperation between the College and the IPY EALÁTproject, students will be completing projects on climate change and reindeer husbandry, similar to work that is undertaken by students in Kautokeino, the heart of the Sami reindeer husbandry area. To an audience of about 40 young students, Svein Mathiesen gave an overview of the EALÁT  project, while Anna Degteva gave an outline of the themes and topics that students are expected to work on. Philip Burgess gave a presentation of the Reindeer Portal (, the online source of information by for and about reindeer husbandry. (Story continues below photos. More photos also here).

Further meetings were held with the Meterological Centre in Salekhard. The EALÁT  project has been working cooperatively with the local met office there for several years. Additional work was done with the Department of Small numbered Indigenous Peoples and the Yamal Branch of the Russian Reindeer Herders Union with a view to creating an area on the Reindeer Portal for locally produced information about reindeer husbandry in the Yamal region, before heading north to Yar-Sale. Oleg P. Sugnei, A Nenets who works in the YNAO Department of Indigenous Affairs will be the first person to create an online profile of reindeer husbandry from within an area of reindeer husbandryin Russia, an exciting milestone for the Portal.

From Salekhard it is a short 45 minute helicopter ride to Yar-Sale (considerably shorter than the 6 hours return trip the team took by truck on the frozen Ob river via Aksarka and Panaevsk).

In Yar-Sale, the team took the time to meet with the head of the Reindeer herdering enterprise  ‘Yarsalinsksoe’ Valeri N. Shurigin and connect with  local administration officials Dmitry K. Serotetto (a guest at at the WRH Congress in Kautokeino 2009) and Vladimir G. Nikiforov.  An unexpected public meeting was held in Yar-Sale which the team was able to attend concerning the construction of a dump for construction debris from the planned pipeline across the Baidaratskaya Bay as part of the Bovanenkovo gas field development. The meeting was attended by various contractors and subcontractors who made presentations. Other participants included several figures from the municipal  Administration, the Yamal Public Movement of Indigenous Peoples of the North Yamal, the reindeer herding brigades reindeer herding enterprise "Yarsalinskoe” along with local and regional media. Participation was small, as weather conditions had placed its holding into doubt, there were a lot of uncomfortable questions and comments on how the work of this particular construction company (in contrast to Nadym Dobycha Gazprom) has been carried out over the past several years.

The participants from local administration and indigenous NGO pointed out the neglect of social obligations from the company’s side and the lack of understanding on which land the company works. Nonetheless, the meeting was held on the issue of the proper storage of constraction waste storage (a major point of concern for reindeer herders).  The  necessaty of such a storage and the using of new technologies were approved, and all the comments were included in the meeting protocols. People were hopeful for an improved attitude from the company’s side.

After all the meeting it was finally time to head to the tundra to visit reindeer herders, no easy task in a region with sparse (though growing) mobile phone connection. The team headed North first by an all track vehicle then by snowmobile, passing several herders on migration southwards. Thankfully, we had the company of an excellent pathfiner  Andrei A. Serotetto, an employee of the ‘Yarsalinskoe’ herding enterprise. After two days of travel, the EALÁT  team made it to the chum of Nyadma Khudi, the head of Brigede no.4 who was wintering with Otto Yaptik,  a reindeer herder who has turned to private reindeer husbandry as opposed to being  on salary with the Enterprise.  

Usually Nyadma Khudi (who has a participant in the WRH Congress in Kautokeino earlier this year) would be migrating south with the Brigade over the frozen Ob bay to the winter pastures of the Nadym region. This year he is overwintering North of the Ob, and from January will be talking his 'vacation time' (meaning he winters with his own animals and does not join the Brigade on migration).

The EALÁT  team spent a very rewarding time with Nyadma and his family. ‘Real’ christmas food – frozen reindeer meat and fish was eaten and  discussions were held on a wide variety if topics including winter pasture conditions for reindeer and loss of pastures, key themes of the EALÁT  project. Khudi’s brigade is most directly effected by the development of the Bovanenkovo gas fields as they straddle directly the route of the their migration to the Kara Sea.

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