The wild forest reindeer and semi-domesticated reindeer can produce fertile offspring. Interbreeding reduces the genetic purity of the wild forest reindeer. In order to prevent encounters between wild forest reindeer and semi-domesticated reindeer, a 90 km long wild forest reindeer fence was built in 1993-1996 on the southern border of the reindeer herding area.
There are 15 roads running through the fence, most of which have cattle grids to prevent the passage of wild forest and semi-domesticated reindeer. There are gates in the fence for minor roads and for people otherwise moving through the forest. Some gates have electronic surveillance cameras to detect gates left open and possible crossing by semi-domesticated and wild forest reindeer. Pedestrians are reminded to close the gate behind them, but this is sometimes neglected. The fence requires regular repair, for which Metsähallitus is responsible.
The genetic purity of wild forest reindeer has been promoted by culling cross-breeds of wild forest reindeer and semi-domesticated reindeer. Also, individual wild forest reindeer wandering into the reindeer herding area have been culled. This has greatly reduced the movement of wild forest reindeer to the north of the wild forest reindeer fence. The Finnish Wildlife Agency is responsible for this work in the Kainuu region.
During the period 1998-2001 the genetic purity of wild forest reindeer was promoted by a project supported by the European Union's LIFE Nature fund. The project involved the Hunters' Federation (Metsästäjäin Keskusjärjestö), Metsähallitus, Kainuu game district, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the University of Oulu, and the National Road Administration.
The main tasks of the project were sealing the wild forest reindeer fence, with the aid of wild forest reindeer obstacles and gates on road openings, and assessing the genetic purity of the wild forest reindeer. Other measures were cleansing the wild forest reindeer population (i.e. culling cross-breeds and semi-domesticated reindeer), prevention of damage by wild forest reindeer, improving attitudes towards wild forest reindeer and providing information to the public.
There are some farmed reindeer in the area where wild forest reindeer are found. Their numbers are not known, because reindeer keeping does not require a notice, let alone permission. The escape of farmed animals poses a risk of interbreeding.
It is advisable for farmed reindeer to be marked on the ear or neck. When reindeer escape, time and resources for their capture should not be spared. Help can be obtained, for example, from local hunting clubs.
Reindeer herding completely ended in the Republic of Karelia in the mid-1960s, and there were no revival attemps ever after. At one time, central reindeer herding areas included the Loukhsky, Kemsky and Kalevalsky Districts. The form of reindeer domesticated in Karelia was specifically the wild forest reindeer, so there was no risk of hybridisation with the mountain reindeer. However, in the 1950s, herds of mountain reindeer belonging to the Komi-Izhman subspecies were twice brought to Karelia from the Murmansk area to complement the herds of the collective reindeer estates. As a result of this, the newcomers were hybridised with the local reindeer.
Today, the reindeer herding areas in the Murmansk area are so far away from the Republic of Karelia that it is impossible for the domesticated reindeer to meet the wild forest reindeer. The closest domesticated reindeer herds are in Finland. Sometimes the semi-domestic reindeer from the reindeer huspandry area of Finland escape to the Russian side.
Today, the genetic inheritance of the wild forest reindeer is researched in the Republic of Karelia, and the results are expected to aid in clarifying the pureness of the breed in wild forest reindeer groups in different parts of the Repubic of Karelia.
Photo: A cattle grid on a road running through the wild forest reindeer fence.
Wild forest reindeer
Scientific name: Rangifer tarandus fennicus
Range and numbers:
In Finland, 800 individuals in Kainuu, 2000 individuals in Suomenselkä and about 20 individuals in Seitseminen and Lauhanvuori National Parks (reintroduced populations).
In Russian Karelia up to 2,400. See range map.
Conservation status in Finland (2019): Near Threatened (NT)