The holiday season is almost in full swing, but one group that has long embodied the lively spirit of the winter months is in dire straits: reindeer.
In part due to bad luck, reindeer populations have taken a significant hit over the course of 2016. In July, thousands died of anthrax, possibly caused by the thawing of a reindeer carcass that had died earlier from the disease. A month later, a lightning storm in Norway resulted in a death toll of over 300 wild reindeer.
But scientists are hypothesizing that large numbers of reindeer are dying from the effects of climate change, a major consequence of anthropogenic activities. The scientific journal Biology Letters recently reported that two major reindeer mortality incidents occurred in the falls of 2006 and 2013 on the Yamal Peninsula, located northwest of Siberia. As a result of atmospheric warming, the journal found that “rain-on-snow” (ROS) precipitation events in autumn months became more frequent, but as the temperature dropped over the course of the winter, the rain froze into abnormally thick ice. Reindeer typically find food by digging through soft snow, not impenetrable ice—so tens of thousands of reindeer died of starvation during the late months of 2006 and 2013.
The Nenets, a group of indigenous nomadic herders, live in the Arctic and rely on reindeer to survive. They were essentially stranded in the tundra after the 2013 reindeer die-out because they had no animals to transport their camps. Nenets eat reindeer meat, use hides for warm clothes, and fashion their bones into tools. Thus, it is evident that the effects of climate change are jeopardizing the stability of both an iconic animal population and an ancient, self-sufficient nomadic culture. No one is spared from the havoc of the Anthropocene.