A Reindeer's Perilous Journey In Swedish Lapland

A reindeer's perilous journey in Swedish Lapland

DIKANDS, Sweden, , (Pakistan Point News - APP - 29th Nov, 2016 ) - A herd of reindeer moves silently down the mountain, their silver coats and majestic antlers blending into the Swedish tundra as their herder leads them to their winter grazing grounds in the plains below. The annual pilgrimage, called transhumance, takes on almost sacred meaning for Sweden's indigenous Sami reindeer herders nowadays, as they face modern-day threats to their livelihood from wind turbines, global warming, logging, and mining.

"It's a painful life, but the most beautiful there is," says Margret Fjellstrom, who owns several hundred reindeer in Dikanas, a village in Sweden's mountains 800 kilometres (500 miles) north of the capital Stockholm. "My identity depends on this life. When a fawn is born, we forget all of our troubles," the 30-year-old Sami tells AFP. Every autumn, the reindeer are taken to their winter pasture in the plains by their owners, the Sami -- formerly called Lapps -- the only people authorised to herd reindeer in Sweden.

In Dikanas, helpers on snowmobiles and quad bikes prepare for the move by leading thousands of the animals into an enclosure. There the fawns are marked, and the adults are separated. The fattest are sent to the slaughterhouse -- their meat is considered a delicacy in the Nordic countries -- while the others are sent to the forests in the plains teeming with lichen, a type of moss that makes up the reindeer's main diet. Margret Fjellstrom's lasso whirls above her furred hat as she shouts out orders to her helpers.

Around her waist in a sheath rests the indispensable knife used to carve the mark in the animals' ears. They need to move quickly. Night falls before 3:00 pm this far north, the semi-domesticated reindeer are getting stressed and the herders are exhausted from a hard day's work. Under the watchful gaze of a group of fascinated children, the herders lay the reindeer down and hold them still as they mark and vaccinate them. The herders then load them onto the trucks that will take them to their winter pasture, 200 kilometres east.