Climate change is causing the death of a quarter of a million reindeer.
For those that doubt how climate change affects animals around the world, the reindeer in the Yamal region of Russia is a prime example.
This past summer, temperatures reached 86° in the Siberian region in Russia, which is abnormally hot for the Arctic part of the country. The permafrost covering animal burial sites melted over the summer and released anthrax spores that can live for decades. The spores had been frozen for approximately 75 years, which originated from the carcass of an infected reindeer.
These spores spread rapidly and kill those infected by it rather quickly; the Russian government realized there was a huge outbreak only after one 12-year-old boy, at least 4 dogs, and 2,350 reindeer had died from the disease. Anthrax can be transmitted by breathing in the spores, handling animal carcasses, and eating the undercooked meat of an infected animal.
As a result of the largest anthrax outbreak in the last 75 years, the Russian government has made the decision to cull the herds of reindeer in the region and kill 250,000 more of these iconic animals. Nikolai Vlasov, deputy head of Russia’s Federal Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance Service, told the Siberian Times:
“Reindeer livestock numbers in Yamal are too high. The more dense the animal population is, the worse the disease transfer medium (and) the more often animals get sick.”
In short, climate change caused the temperature to rise, which melted the permafrost, released the spores, sparked a horrible outbreak, and caused the government to decide to kill a quarter of a million native reindeer.
Russia has claimed that the resurfacing of the spores was caused by overgrazing, thereby justifying their decision to cull the reindeer. The nomadic people that live in Yamal own herds of reindeer and would suffer a significant loss with this plan. In return, the Russian government plans on offering the nomadic people mortgages so that they settle down and live in apartments instead of continuing with their age-old culture of traveling. Their reindeer would be culled and the remainder of them would be penned.
According to Bruce C. Forbes, researcher and professor at the Arctic Center at Finland’s University of Lapland who has studied Yamal tundra for the past 25 years, this would not solve the problem because overgrazing isn’t the issue. Since reindeer populations have increased since the 1970s, vegetation has also been more productive with the rise in animals.
There are likely many factors that contributed to the anthrax outbreak this past summer, but it’s unlikely that killing a quarter of a million reindeer will help in reducing the spread of a disease that’s resurfacing from uncontrollable weather.
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