Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

The Hazards of Herding Blitzen

May 4th, 2011 · 1 Comment


In case you don’t keep regular tabs on Scandinavian jurisprudence, I’d like to draw your attention to a recent legal triumph by a group of Sami reindeer herders who operate in Sweden’s forbidding north. After 14 years of litigation, the herders have finally won the right to let their animals graze in the forests around Nordmaling, which are privately owned. Sami activists claim that the victory ensures the survival of their traditional profession, and thus continued sustenance for those who enjoy a nice slice of reindeer every now and then.

But while future generations of Sami herders might now be guaranteed grazing rights, their profession will continue to be far from stable. That is because tending to reindeer remains a fantastically perilous way to make one’s living—so much so that it has attracted plenty of attention from occupational safety researchers, who are keen to reduce the endeavor’s sky-high fatality rate. This 2004 study details the perils:

Reindeer herding implies many hazardous situations, especially during the gathering of the reindeer for migration or slaughter. During these periods the herders use vehicles to gather the reindeer (i.e. motorcycles, snowmobiles, helicopters, airplanes and boats), and the work is often executed during long working hours in harsh climate. For instance, it has been shown that most reindeer-herding men spend approximately 800 hours per winter on snowmobile. The increasing number of work-related fatal accidents among the reindeer herders is probably related to an increasing pressure from the Swedish society to develop profitable reindeer herding companies with less dependence on governmental support. This has resulted in external socio-economic pressure and competition between the family companies within the Sami communities, which in turn has forced the enterprises to make costly investments in vehicles to save time and personnel expenses…

The high number of work-related accidents among reindeer herders puts reindeer herding at the top among the most hazardous occupations in Sweden. A comparison of the present results and official statistics on work-related accidents in different occupations shows that work-related fatal accidents are more than twice as common among reindeer herders than within the agricultural and the building- construction sectors.

Still, it does seem a fair bit safer than elephant training.

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