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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Yamal reindeer herders hemmed in by gas fields and pipelines

10 May 2012 

Yamal reindeer herders hemmed in by gas fields and pipelines

By Lucy Ash

Radio 4 Crossing Continents

The Yamal peninsula in the Russian Arctic may look like an empty frozen waste, but since gas companies started moving in the 15,000 nomadic reindeer herders who live in this territory the size of England have begun feeling cramped.

I was beginning to despair of ever finding Reindeer Brigade number four. We had been bouncing along for hours in our Trekol - an all-terrain vehicle designed for the Siberian tundra with chest-high pillow-soft tyres.

We passed larch trees bent like old men by the fierce wind and spindly clumps of willow shrubs. But as we drove northwards the vegetation petered out and we were enveloped in a white desert.

At last I saw a row of six conical tents - or chums - on the horizon. As we drew closer, hundreds of moving brown dots magically transformed into reindeer.

The Yamal region in northwest Siberia is the only part of Russia where reindeer herding did not decline or stagnate after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In fact, it has been steadily growing and today this area boasts the world's biggest herds, with roughly 600,000 reindeer managed by 15,000 nomads.

It is an isolated wilderness where winter lasts eight months a year and temperatures can drop to -50C.

Yamal means "the end of the earth" in the language of the Nenets, the indigenous herders who have lived here for more than 1,000 years. (...)

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