Warm winters distress reindeer herders in Russian Arctic

LOVOZERO, March 2, 2010 (AFP) – In a billowing cloud of white, Russia’s Arctic herders drive thousands of panting and wild-eyed reindeer through the knee-deep snow to the first slaughter this year. But warm winters in recent years have forced herders here in the far northern Kola Peninsula to delay for months the rounding up of their reindeer from the vast tundra — at great economic cost.

“We’ve had to move the slaughter forwards from December to February because the lakes haven’t frozen over,” said Vladimir Filippov, an ethnic Komi herder who heads the farm Tundra, the main employer in this remote village.

These reindeer have lost roughly 20 percent of their weight during the extra months spent in the tundra while herders waited for the ice to thicken enough for the forced migration.

“It’s not a small but a huge problem for us and a constant worry,” said Filippov.

With meat sold at 4.34-6.01 dollars per kilogram (2.2 pounds), it can amount to a loss of up to 167,000 dollars per year. “That’s a huge loss,” Filippov sighed.

Over the past decade average temperatures have risen by 0.7 degrees C (1.25 degrees F) and satellite images show melting ice cover on the Arctic pole, s