Monday, November 02, 2009

Nomadic adaptation

Sometimes stark images and sparse words combine to leave a powerful imprint on one's mind. That's was the case when I read the following Nation Geographic Magazine account of the the Sami nomadic people herding reindeer onto boats in order to provide passage across a fragmented landscape so that they might feed.

This takes the concept of adaptive management to new levels.

Ahoy, Reindeer

By Tom O’Neill

National Geographic

November 2009

The antlered animals weren’t made for this –to stumble onto a boat in the middle of an autumn night and bump and sway on the water for six hours until they attain solid ground again and resume their overland migration to a winter refuge. In Norway, both reindeer and their seminomadic herders, members of an indigenous Sami, are struggling to find their balance as development intrudes on traditional grazing lands, changing the way humans and animals move.

For centuries the Sami have seasonally driven reindeer between grassy feeding grounds on the coast and lichen-rich tundra in the interior. Unlike the tiny wild population to the south, the 250,000 northern reindeer are semidomesticated, raised principally for the sale of their meat. The income helps support about 3,000 herders, nowadays a small fraction of Norway’s Sami population of 50,000.

But no longer can herds drift as easily as clouds. A glut of holiday cabins, oil and gas complexes, military ranges, windmill farms, and power lines has fragmented migration corridors. To adapt, the Sami are shifting grazing areas and using boats as well as trucks to maneuver herds. With the loss of pastureland, some worry that the culture’s long dependence on reindeer will slowly vanish, destined for tales told by elders.


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