Yesterday, we flew from Stockholm to Kiruna in northern Sweden. We arrived in 40° F, rainy weather, picked up our rental car, and, after a quick lunch, drove out to the Sámi Camp to see the reindeer.
The Sámi are the indigenous people of the Nordic countries, today numbering about 60,000, one-third of whom live in Sweden, the balance in Norway, Finland and Russia. The Sámi are reindeer herders living mostly north of the Arctic Circle, the latitude above which the sun does not rise or set for at least one full 24-hour day (66° 30′ N), normally December 21 and June 21, the latter of which happens to be today!
I have learned that Dale loves to feed animals, and she makes no exception for reindeer.
Lucky for her, there were plenty of hungry reindeer here at the Sámi Camp.
Apparently, reindeer know how to tell time. Here at the Sámi Camp, they are feed daily at 4:00 P.M. Sure enough, at exactly 3:55 P.M., the entire herd galloped over to the feeding side of the corral to anxiously await the smorgasbord.
In America, we call reindeer “caribou.” They are the only deer species in which both the male and female grow antlers. All of the reindeer here at the Sámi Camp are gelded males, so I can only show you photos of male antlers – they’re bigger than the females’ and pretty impressive:
The males shed their antlers annually after they rut in October; the females keep theirs through winter so they can protect their young, each female giving birth to a single calf in May or June after a 7 1/2 month gestation. In case you’re wondering, reindeer usually live about 15 years in the wild; 20 in captivity. And, yes, the Sámi still actively herd reindeer.
The Sámi girl at the counter came out to feed the reindeer right at 4:00.
They were all so excited to see her that they followed her around the corral like ducklings.
We were allowed into the corral and were able to get up close and personal as they ate.
We noticed their widely cloven hooves and asked about them. Turns out that this is characteristic of reindeer and it enables them to walk on the snow and tundra of the north; their cloven hooves also allow them to dig into the snow in winter time in order to get to the moss growing below.
Our Sámi guide was pleasant and helpful.
As we were leaving, she let me do a little reindeer wrangling of my own.
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