Reindeer in Lapland – the Sad Story

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. Moreover, 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 ‘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.

Please check out the work of undercover journalist Rich Hardy at Not as Nature Intended Instagram page: @notasnatureintended

First of all, I don’t see how any adult finds 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 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?

Last updated on November 17th, 2022


  • Aaliya Ahmed

    I totally agree with your thoughts here life has changed now we are in the 21st century people should not depend on reindeer for survival why can’t they just leave these animals live the way they are intended to live out in nature humans are the worst creatures on earth, in the olden ages they had no choice but be dependent on such animals for survival bit now it is just for financial gain amd nothing else in the excuse of culture

    • Veganhaven

      Thanks for your comment. That’s exactly what I want to point out in this post. We definitely need to move on from exploiting animals and find ethical options in this day and age. And some people say that if we didn’t use these animals, they would die a cruel death in the wild.. but they do have a fighting chance at survival in the wild whereas we kill them in masses even when we have no real need to.

      • E.Orbas - 10th generation reindeer herder


        Don’t take this too seriously, but think about it…

        As a reindeer herder I just wanted to say a couple of things that people have not thought of, maybe.

        Reindeer are our companions in our life, we see them at birth, look after them when they are sick and keep them happy and cozy. I mean, they could leave whenever they want, but instead they choose to come back to me every winter. And that is not all, every morning they wait for me to come and see them and some even want to have the same scratching… Is this exploitation?

        And if we talk about exploitation and moralization… It is a shame that people moralize us and after that they go to movies, restaurants, grocery stores, internet, facebook, instagram etc. They buy Big new TV:s or New electric cars, fly to the vacation, take a cruise or sleep in a hotel… They are the reason why we are at this point… Every battery means new MINERAL mine in Lapland, every electronic device means new GOLD mine in Lapland, every book means that OLD FORESTS are cut down and soil tilled to grow new faster… AND TO ALL THIS THEY SUPPORT WITH TAXES…

        After all this there is nothing for poor reindeer to eat out there and we have to feed them or else 99% of them will starve to death. To feed them we need money, to pay taxes we need money…

        To get some view to this : One ferryload of avocados raised, transported to Finland and sold in Finland, releases almost same amount of carbon to the atmosphere that all the cars in Finland during the whole year… but now to the point

        1st. How did we come to this point? – All started a long time ago when modern societies started tax collection to keep states and cities going and growing. That was a starting point, where also reindeer herders were required to pay taxes (money) and where else they would earn money? They owned just reindeer.

        2nd. Access to groceries – Access to grocery stores might be obvious for people, but like here in Lapland… Our shopping trip is 90 KM and the same trip back, like 180 km to get some milk!

        3rd Growing your food – We have 8 months of snow coverage… Do I need to say more?

        And like you said… this is modern time, we did not ask for it, but we also live it, like you too… And after all this, if you still want to moralize… let’s demolish cities, roads, mines and houses. Let’s grow the forests back like they were in middle age. Lets cure the land like it was before all this started so we could continue our traditional living… and after that, we can start to moralize and blame each other.

        Now we just have to live our life like it is…

        • Nandita

          Hi, thanks for your comment. I have thought about some of the things you have mentioned and I agree it may not be an easy or sudden switch for people living these lifestyles (reindeer herding) and it is rather unfortunate that they have to kill the animals to make a living. But that’s how it is for now, right? Let me go through your points:
          – Reindeer are your companions, you may provide them safety and comfort. That isn’t exploitation and I don’t say it is. Rather, I wonder why most of the reindeer are killed as calves for meat? (facts from the Reindeer Herder’s association)
          – I don’t know what you mean by ‘moralization’ here. A vast area of forests is protected and I hope it remains so (there have to be laws in place to limit the mining). Also we have controlled the reindeer population to match numbers to kill (for humans) as well as reduced predators. In a natural situation 99% of free roaming reindeer would probably not starve to death.
          – A large % of the population of reindeer are killed off by humans mostly for profits. It was this way in the past times all around the world – animals (and even humans) used as resources to buy and sell but in many cases we have progressed from that.
          – About your typical avocado example – what’s the source? It seems inaccurate to claim that a ferryload avocados equals all cars in Finland in a year. In any case, I’m not discussing carbon footprints in this post.
          – In the blog I mainly discuss why reindeer exploitation is promoted to tourists (eat their meat, buy their skin, rides)
          – Have you looked from the reindeers point of view, in the end – do they want to be slaughtered or just live their lives freely?

    • peter fox

      The artist Outi Pieski claims that the Sami have ‘equal status with nature’ , but forgets to tell us about the thousands of reindeer slaughtered every year.
      That’s not my idea of equal status.

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