Wild forest reindeer are game animals, although the number of animals killed each year is very small. Owing to their slow rate of increase, wild forest reindeer may never develop into the kind of hunting resource represented, for instance, by moose or roe deer.
Hunting is regulated by means of licenses granted by the Finnish Wildlife Agency. Since 2003, wild forest reindeer have been hunted only in the Suomenselkä area.
Wild forest reindeer hunting began in Suomenselkä in 1998, after a break of nearly a century. The population reintroduced to the area had grown at a good pace and at that time there were about 650 animals living in the region. Some of the herds had begun to move quite actively among field crops. Chasing them did not help, but rather caused damage and, above all, debate on this.
The purpose of hunting was to prevent damage to agriculture. Hunting was concentrated on herds visiting fields, in order to increase their level of timidnessity.
The number of hunting licenses increased as the population grew. Wild forest reindeer was seen more and more as a traditional game resource, although hunting still occurred in fields to prevent the crop damage. However, damage, and related debate, subsided at the same time. The highest number of wild forest reindeer killed was in the hunting season of 2006-2007, when the bag was close to 150 individuals.
After 2003, there was a five year break in monitoring of the wild forest reindeer population in Suomenselkä. Aerial counts in the winter of 2008 revealed that the population was not growing as expected. As a result, the number of hunting licenses was reduced significantly. For the period 2010-2013 the number of animals killed has been at most a few dozen individuals out of a population of more than a thousand.
Wild forest reindeer hunting is of local importance in Suomenselkä. Hunters consider the species an important part of the local environment, and are actively involved in monitoring the population and promoting its protection. The possibility of small-scale hunting keeps them motivated in these activities.
In Kainuu, the hunting of wild forest reindeer began in 1996, when the population increased to about one thousand individuals. The licenses covered about a dozen animals a year, and in 2001 and 2002, about 40 animals a year. Hunting was stopped in Kainuu in 2003, when it was discovered that the population was no longer growing as expected, but had actually begun to decline.
In addition to elk, the wild forest reindeer has throughout the ages been an important hunting game for man in Karelia. There is a well-known ancient Sami reindeer cult, which tells of the important role of the reindeer in man’s life in Europe’s northernmost regions. A tale according to which man is descended from a human reindeer has survived in the Sami oral tradition. The Sami people have utilised the reindeer in two ways. The oldest method is hunting, and an eqully important later method is domestication and selective breeding. The hunted animals have offered the Sami people food, clothing and household items, whereas the domesticated reindeer were used mostly for transport.
In the beginning of the last century, the number of the wild forest reindeer in the Republic of Karelia has gravely decreased. Hunting was forbidden, and the ban lasted until the late 1970s, when the size of the stock was over 5000 units. The wild forest reindeer is hunted mainly in areas with high population density (Loukhsky, Kalevalsky, Kemsky Districts), and also in former reindeer herding areas. To regulate hunting, guidelines featuring descriptions and characteristics of the cross between a domesticated reindeer and a Karelian reindeer and a Komi Izma reindeer were issued. The number of hunted animals was not very big. On the average, a little over 100 animals per year were hunted in the Republic of Karelia. Utilisation of the hunting quota in the entire area has surpassed 50% only in some years.
In the 1990s, the size of the wild forest reindeer stock has again decreased, and as a result, also the hunting quotas were restricted. Since 1993, the hunting of the wild forest reindeer has been completely banned in the Segezhsky District. However, the contraction of the wild forest reindeer stock has continued, and as a result, in 2002, hunting was banned in the entire Republic of Karelia.
Wild forest reindeer
Latin name: Rangifer tarandus fennicus, a wild "cousin" of the reindeer
Range and numbers:
In Finland, 700 individuals in Kainuu and 1,250 in Suomenselkä
In Russian Karelia up to 2,400, with an estimated 1,500 in Arkhangelsk and 2,500 in Kom (the question of the taxonomic status of wild reindeer of Arkhangelsk province and Komi Republic is open and requires special research). See range map.
Conservation status in Finland: Near Threatened (NT)