Photo: Carl-Johan Utsi
For millennia the reindeer has been one of the most important animals for humans in Laponia and today it is a carrier of a long cultural tradition and Sami identity. Although reindeer herds are now privately owned and managed all year round, they are, as the old Sami saying goes, the property of the wind.
Reindeer have been here since the last ice age. They need different food at different times of the year. Herds have grazed in these forests and mountains during their constant migrations, and the first people to live here followed the animals in their tracks. At strategic points along the herds’ migration routes, they built systems of trapping pits to scare the animals. The hunt did not only provide meat. The furs and skins of the prey were used to make clothes, shoes and other necessities.
Gradually the reindeer were domesticated. For example, a domesticated female could be used to attract other wild reindeer. But the biggest benefit was that it could pull and carry everything needed for the constant journeys. When trade with surrounding peoples began, it became interesting to keep larger herds of reindeer. Reindeer products then became something that could be bartered or sold. Throughout history, every part of the reindeer has been used.
Reindeer and reindeer husbandry depend on pristine land where reindeer can graze. The reindeer(Rangifer tarandus tarandus) is the species of reindeer found in Sweden today. It is well adapted to life in an Arctic climate. Reindeer are herd animals, so they thrive together and follow their habitual routes. Reindeer need different types of grazing depending on the season and therefore move between different areas depending on the season. In winter, the main food is reindeer lichen and during the bare ground season reindeer graze on grasses, herbs, mushrooms and leaves. Reindeer have special habitats where they find grazing, calving grounds for the cows and where they feel safe. Reindeer avoid being in certain areas which can sometimes be due to weather, grazing conditions, grazing tranquillity or disturbances and that is why reindeer herding needs large areas throughout the year. Reindeer, like all animals, are very sensitive to human disturbance.