Nightmare before Christmas: Siberia plans to cull 250,000 reindeer amid anthrax fears

One third of worlds largest reindeer herd could be killed in an effort to prevent the spread of the zombie disease in the Russian tundra

A cull of a quarter of a million reindeer by Christmas has been proposed in northern Siberia in a bid to reduce the risk of an anthrax outbreak.

There are thought to be more than 700,000 animals in the Yamalo-Nenets region, in the arctic zone of the West Siberian plain the largest herd in the world.

About 300,000 of those are on the Yamal peninsula, prompting concerns of overgrazing and dense herds that could facilitate the spread of disease, the Siberian Times reported.

Dmitry Kobylkin, the governor of Yamalo-Nenets, has called for a proposal for how to reduce the population by 250,000 animals to be finalised by the end of September.

Culls are traditionally held in November and December, but the number of animals to be killed this year is expected to be significantly increased, following outbreaks of anthrax in recent months.

The so-called zombie disease is thought to have been resurrected when unusually warm temperatures thawed the carcass of a reindeer that died from anthrax several decades ago, releasing the bacteria.

A state of emergency was imposed in July. A 12-year-old boy from the Yamalo-Nenets region later died after consuming the venison of an infected reindeer.

Some 2,350 reindeer also perished in the outbreaks, reported the Siberian Times, as well as at least four dogs.

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A Nenets herdsman gathers his reindeer as they prepare to leave a site outside the town of Nadym in Siberia. The Nenets people live in snow and freezing temperatures some 260 days of the year and are mainly nomadic reindeer herdsmen. Photograph: Tatyana Makeyeva/AFP/Getty Images

Officials are now calling for the reindeer population to be reduced, warning that infection can spread rapidly through large herds.

Nikolai Vlasov, the deputy head of Russias federal veterinary and phytosanitary surveillance service, told the Siberian Times the more dense an animal population is, the greater the risk of disease transfer.

Density of livestock, especially in the tundra areas that are very fragile, should be regulated. … It is impossible to breed reindeers without limits.

The population on the Yamal peninsula in particular was nearing a dangerous milestone, said Vlasov, with 300,000 reindeer competing for sufficient food for 110,000 animals.

Too many animals could kill pastures, compromising the livelihoods of the indigenous population of the North.

He suggested reindeer could be moved to southern regions of Yamelo-Nenets to allow the northern pasturers to recover.

There was also a proposal to incentivise nomadic herders to give up their reindeer in exchange for affordable mortgages for apartments.

About 523,000 people shared a land area of 750,300 sq km (289,700 sq miles) a density of 0.7 per km (1.8/sq mi).

But Olga Murashko, an anthropologist, expressed concern that the cull would deal a blow to nomadic people with small, private herds of about a hundred reindeer.

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A huge number of nomads on the Yamal and Gydan peninsulas will lose their means of existence and opportunities to maintain their traditional way of life.

Murashko also noted that the bid to reduce the size of the reindeer population in Yamal coincided with the rapid issuing of licences for gas extraction in the same region.

The Yamalo-Nenets region is Russias most significant source of natural gas, and accounts for some of its oil production.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/30/nightmare-before-christmas-siberia-plans-to-cull-250000-reindeer-amid-anthrax-fears