Foto: Jessica Nildén

About reindeer and reindeer management

Here, in the northernmost part of the country, the contrasts are as numerous as they are marvellous. The sun shines 24 hours a day during the intensely beautiful summer months. In midwinter, the magical blue light of the polar night reigns, as the moon and the stars light the landscape. Let yourself get carried away by the alluring colours of the Northern Lights, crackling in the sky. Here, you can find adventure and activities for all seasons. Enjoy your stay, the light, the experiences and the local nature and wildlife.

You are in the midst of a rich cultural landscape where the Sámi people use the land for reindeer herding and associated traditional trades. When you visit Kiruna in Swedish Lapland and our rich countryside and culture, we kindly ask that you act responsibly and respectfully towards the wildlife, environment and culture. In that way, we can together ensure sustainable development with harmony between various enterprises and cultures.

Seven samebyar (Sámi communities) in Kiruna Municipality
Kiruna Municipality encompasses seven samebyar or Sámi communities: Könkämä, Saarivuoma, Lainiovuoma, Vittangi, Laevas, Gabna and Talma. A sameby is a geographical area where reindeer herding is carried out but also a kind of economic, administrative unit. Wherever you go and whatever you experience here, you will be on Sámi cultural land. Reindeer husbandry in its current form has been carried out in this region for hundreds of years. Reindeer herding is a central and very important industry in Sámi society. It is not only a means of having an income – it also serves to carry on an ancient cultural tradition and a Sámi identity. All Sámi communities have their own areas where their reindeer graze.

When spending time in the cultural landscape near reindeer, it is important to remember that the reindeer need peace and quiet when grazing, ruminating and resting. The reindeer cows, known as vajor, give birth to their calves in spring and early summer and during that time they are particularly sensitive to disturbance. If the reindeer are frightened, they can lose precious grazing time during the summer and this can lead to starvation and malnourishment during the long winter.

 

Annual cycle
Reindeer herding requires that the Sámi communities have access to various grazing areas. As the seasons change, reindeer migrate between different grazing areas depending on the availability of food. This means that reindeer herding is a nomadic activity where the herding Sámi follow the natural movements of the reindeer or gather the herds to drive them to the right grazing area. The regional landscape is used for grazing, migration and calving. Climate and natural resources, weather, vegetation and precipitation also affect reindeer herding.

The herding year begins in April and May. Calves are born and the vajor (female reindeer) seek areas with rich grazing pastures. June is a calm month as the reindeer recover after the long winter. The reindeer also begin migrating towards the higher mountains where there is plenty of food, fewer insects and some respite from the hot summer sun. Calf branding is also carried out during this period. The summer months are important to the reindeer as they build up muscle and layers of fat to survive the coming winter.

Vaja with her little reindeer calf, photo: Jessica Nildén

Before the start of the rutting season in September, reindeer herding Sámi gather the male reindeer (known as sarv) for slaughter. September and October mean the arrival of the first nights of frost and snow. The reindeer migrate to other areas to graze. In early winter, November and December, the reindeer migrate to their winter grazing areas. The herding Sámi gather them and split them into winter groups and slaughter groups. The winter groups are kept apart during the winter in order to utilise the grazing areas in the best possible way. If the winter pasturelands are meagre, emergency support feeding is sometimes needed. When the reindeer herding year ends in April, migration to the calving sites begins. The reindeer have natural ‘comfort zones’ where they often stay as herds. These natural areas shrink as other industries claim the land.


To think about when you encounter reindeer

Gathering a reindeer herd is hard work and can take several days. An unplanned scattering or disturbance of the herd will have consequences. It can mean the loss of several days of work for reindeer herders, resulting in increased costs and lower revenues. It also affects the well-being and survival of the reindeer.

When we visit this unique cultural landscape we can all help create viable conditions for the Sámi communities, the culture and the reindeer herding, by:

• Choosing to hike, run, bike or snowmobile on pre-existing trails. This minimises the risk of disturbing the peace of grazing reindeer.
• If you find yourself in the midst of a reindeer herd, please remain still until it has passed.
• If you spot reindeer herds on mountain slopes, taking photos or going near them might scare them higher up on the mountain where there are no grazing pastures. Please be careful and considerate.
• When snowmobiling, adapt your speed to your environment and be careful.
• When walking with a dog, pay attention and act following the laws and regulations that apply to dogs in the countryside.