It’s that wonderful time of year when most of us start seeing reindeer on our screens, in people’s’ lawns, and generally taking over. We saw some at the zoo when we went for their lights display and my comment was “Oh good, I haven’t seen one of those in months!”
There were two reindeer, one male and one female, both sporting excellent racks of antlers.
The last time I had seen reindeer was in northern Norway. We were in a bus heading from Nordkapp to Hammerfest and they were everywhere. Our closest encounter was with a rather large group that was trotting towards us down the road. Some with massive sets of antlers.
So what do the locals think of them? They’re pests! They eat your garden, they’re all over the roads, they poop and they’re completely useless. Well, to the Norwegians they’re useless. Only the Sami are allowed to own reindeer, and they do. The Sami people own ALL the reindeer in Norway. The Sami in Sweden and Finland own reindeer too, but I don’t know if it’s 100% as it is in Norway.
So if you see a reindeer in Norway it’s owned by a Sami person. The Sami herd their reindeer down south in the fall (with the help of Norwegian boats) and in the spring they herd them back up to the northern reaches (the Reindeer have to swim going that way). The Sami use reindeer to pull sleds (yep, Santa was probably a Sami), attract tourists, for meat, for home products like leggings and boots, and as savings accounts. If a Norwegian person hunts a reindeer they have to pay the owner reparations (and probably other punishments as well).
Naturally this led me to ask about roadkill, if someone hits a reindeer that’s in the road and kills it do they pay? Nope, turns out the owner of the reindeer is responsible for keeping it off public property such as roads, so if you hit a reindeer on a public road the owner has to pay for any damages to your vehicle (and you).
The result? Bus drivers don’t slow down much when a herd of reindeer is trotting towards you on the road. The reindeer, in turn, are pretty well trained to leave the road when vehicles approach. It all worked out, and we got some great views.
Our tour guide made an interesting comment. He said the Canadians are great hunters. So good in fact that they hunted their caribou near to extinction. The solution? Import reindeer from Norway! The result? Canadian caribou now speak Norwegian. Apparently caribou and reindeer are slightly different animals, but similar enough to interbreed with no trouble and survive happily in the same environments while displaying the same physical characteristics and mostly the same behavior.
Also, reindeer stew? Delicious! Rudolph tastes great kids.