Governor of the Yamal-Nenets region confirms cull after melting permafrost awakens ‘zombie infection’
Sunday 9 October 2016 19.31 BST Last modified on Monday 10 October 2016 01.07 BST
A governor in Russia’s far north has said the reindeer population will be reduced by 100,000 after an anthrax outbreak, but scientists have said twice as many need to be culled.
Reindeer herding is an important industry and livelihood for indigenous peoples in the Yamal-Nenets region. Its governor, Dmitry Kobylkin, told state news agency RIA Novosti that about 100,000 reindeer would be culled this winter because overpopulation was straining a limited food supply and increasing the risk of anthrax infection.
An outbreak in Yamal-Nenets – the first since 1941 – killed a 12-year-old boy and more than 2,500 reindeer in July and August. Scientists and officials blamed the awakening of the “zombie infection” on abnormally hot temperatures caused by global climate change.
Thawing of the permafrost soil can release the frozen bacteria.
“For [lack of fodder], some herder families take their animals to graze in restricted areas where there’s a high risk of Siberian plague infection,” Kobylkin said, using the Russian name for anthrax, a bacterial infection often transmitted through contaminated food or water.
Regional authorities will buy the reindeer to be culled and process the meat, he said. Officials have said reindeer meat exports could increase from 300 tonnes last year to 800 tonnes this year.
More than 750,000 reindeer live in the Yamal-Nenets region, even though the region’s pasture land can support only 386,000 reindeer without degrading, Vladimir Bogdanov, director of the Urals Institute of Plant and Animal Ecology, told Rossiyskaya Gazeta. At least 200,000 reindeer need to be culled, he said.