You will most likely come across reindeer while in Lapland, either on the road or by a reindeer farm. I have to write about the status of reindeer in Lapland because there are some interesting observations to be made.
Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus) or Poro in Finnish, are a type of domesticated deer found in few places on earth, including Lapland, in the Arctic region of Finland, Sweden and Norway. A related wild species – the forest reindeer, exists, but in small numbers and they are a threatened species. Did you know every reindeer in Lapland has an ‘owner’? They are semi –wild in the sense that they are allowed to roam freely but are gathered and may be kept in specific fenced areas for part of the year. They are still controlled in one way or another and their fate is determined by humans.
There’s more reindeer than humans in Lapland. Reindeers are everywhere here. I don’t mean you’ll see actual reindeers everywhere but they are a symbol representing Lapland in a way, they are on signs, logos, souvenirs and also on the menu.
Only a small percentage of reindeer are used for tourism and sledding purposes. Majority of them (almost 40% of the population per year) end up in the slaughterhouse and on to people’s plates. Here are some facts, according to the Reindeer Herders’ Association in Finland:
”The core income of a reindeer herder comes from the meat production and is therefore strongly related to the number of slaughtered reindeer. There were 186 776 reindeer in Finland in the reindeer husbandry year 2013-14 and 71 580 were slaughtered.”
”Most of the slaughtered reindeer are new born calves and that is why they are very important for the herder..”
In ancient times, people depended on animals for survival. Things haven’t really changed when it comes to the dependence on animals in some societies but it’s not necessary for survival anymore. Over time it became part of people’s identity and culture. I’m not sure how the possession and enslavement of animals is still looked over. Reindeer herding has been part of the livelihood of the indigenous culture in Lapland (the Sámi). I’m not writing to argue that but just highlight the usage of animals. We also need to think about this side of the story.
Note that not all reindeer herders are Sami people. In Lapland, people now have access to modern day facilities and various food, many young Sami people live in cities and go to university, where they have a choice to not consume reindeer or any animal products. On the other hand, reindeer herders use modern tech and gadgets e.g to track reindeer.
It’s not the indigenous people’s lifestyle I want to discuss. What really bothers me is how reindeer products are promoted as a ‘local buy’ and their meat and skin promoted to tourists.
These animals may not be treated as badly as ‘farmed animals’ in factory farms but they are still a mere commodity, as humans take everything from them. They are cattle that people profit from. The reindeer are caught, trucked off and killed in a modern day slaughterhouse.
First of all, I don’t see how any adult would find it fun to make a poor animal pull you around. I’m guessing the sleigh rides are aimed at kids. Reindeer, like horses need to be tamed to do this stuff and it is often done by harsh methods. I find it awful that people may whip, poke and prod them to make them go where they please. In Lapland, the animal welfare standards maybe high, however the usage of animals by humans in the 21st century is highly questionable.
Next, the cognitive dissonance. Usually, the animals people eat are largely out of sight and people don’t give a thought on which an animal was killed and how for the product they buy on daily basis. But when people go visit reindeers, take rides and photos with them, buy reindeer shaped stuff, and can then get themselves to eat the flesh of the very animal the same day – disturbing.
Reindeer in Lapland
Bottom line, if we can live causing minimum harm to animals, why don’t we? Why are we still such blood and death craving humans? Are we just a bunch of violent monkeys hiding behind excuses? Haven’t we become more compassionate and found better ways to eat and live? Why don’t we leave the animals alone?