Castration seen as climate change aid for reindeer

Wed Jan 26, 2011 1:53pm GMT
 

By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

TROMSOE, Norway (Reuters) - Indigenous Sami peoples in the Arctic may have found a way to help their reindeer herds cope with climate change: more castration.

Research by Sami experts shows that sterilised males can grow larger and so are better at digging for food -- as Arctic temperatures vary more, thawing snow often refreezes to form thick ice over lichen pastures.

Neutered males are more able to break through ice with their hooves or antlers, and seem more willing than other males to move aside and share food with calves that can die of starvation in bad freeze-thaw winters like 2000-01.

"To make herds more resilient in the future, we need to re-learn the traditional knowledge of castration," said professor Svein Mathiesen, coordinator of the University of the Arctic's Institute of Circumpolar Reindeer Husbandry.

More castration "could be useful to adapt to climate change," he told Reuters in the Arctic city of Tromsoe. "These animals are very good diggers for the small calves in the most critical period of the winter." Pasture this year is good.

Castration has traditionally been used by reindeer herders, partly to make wild animals more docile. Herders on the Yamal peninsula in Russia still neuter about half of all males -- usually by biting into the testicles with their teeth.

Far fewer animals are castrated outside Russia. About 100,000 Sami own about 2.5 million reindeer in homelands in the Nordic countries and Russia.

HALF-CASTRATION   Continued...

<p>A Nenets woman leads her reindeer on the Yamal peninsula, north of the polar circle, August 4, 2009. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov</p>
 
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