Reindeer herders shun large-predator tourism in Lapland
In Eastern Finland, the spotting of large carnivores from camouflaged booths is a popular tourism activity. Lapland reindeer herders, in turn, see the carcass-feeding of predators as a real threat to their livelihood.
By Jenni Leukumaavaara in Sodankylä, Finnish Lapland
“Even in the last few days we’ve had to stand guard here to make sure the eagles won’t snatch the reindeer calves”, reindeer owner and tourism entrepreneur Lauri Ukkola, 64, says in the midst of his reindeer in Sodankylä’s Harakkamella, in Central Lapland.
The fear is easy to understand when one looks at the unsteady running attempts of the day-old calves that are no bigger than an average dog.
These are the source of income for the reindeer herders, although many beasts of prey rather see them as a tasty snack on legs.
Economically the situation could be better, admits Ukkola, and his sentiments are echoed by many other reindeer husbandry entrepreneurs in these out-of-way parts.
In Eastern Finland, large-carnivore spotting excursions and camera safaris have increased their popularity in recent years.
The viewing of bears, wolves, wolverines, eagles, and other predators from camouflaged booths is of interest especially to tourists from Southern Europe.
In a seminar organised by the Finnish Nature League in the Lapland capital of Rovaniemi, there was discussion on Wednesday of last week whether Lapland could also climb on the same bandwagon and whether "predator tourism" could be used to bring additional income to the reindeer husbandry business, which normally just sees the carnivores as a damned nuisance.
The subject is a sensitive one, for according to the Reindeer Herders’ Association, in 2011 around 3,000 reindeer were killed by beasts of prey, resulting in the state having to cough up nearly EUR five million in compensation.
This year the loss of reindeer has so far been even higher than it was last year.
In the view of the reindeer herders, there are far too many beasts of prey in the reindeer husbandry areas, whereas for example the Finnish Nature League’s wolf group says that the wolves will soon become extinct if the authorities continue to grant shooting permits at the present rate.
And of course illegal culling of wolves also takes place.
In the view of nature photographer Lassi Rautiainen, who initiated the photographing of large carnivores in Finland in the 1990s, the beasts of prey would be of greater benefit - even to the reindeer folks - alive rather than dead, but the suspicions and attitudes, which are deeply-rooted, present an obstacle to cooperation between the two sides.
Rautiainen uses fish and carcasses of pigs to lure beasts to make an appearance.
He is of the opinion that the predators will be less interested in attacking the reindeer if they can find food elsewhere more easily.
“Our experiences in the more southerly reindeer husbandry regions have been that for example the wolverine or the bear has not killed any reindeer near the carcass locations.”
“On the contrary, the carcass feeding could be of assistance to the reindeer people, if the two livelihoods co-existed hand in hand”, Rautiainen argues.
In Rautiainen’s considered opinion, it is only a matter of time before the first camera safari enterprise of this type will start up in Lapland.
Lauri Ukkola carves a piece out of a chunk of kuivaliha, a type of salted and dried meat, and shakes his head at the very idea.
In his view it defies all logic to deliberately lure large predators near to the reindeer to allow them to get used to the smell of human beings.
Ukkola does not object the business idea as such. Once he has even visited a bear booth and he has also turned a mobile home into a moving observation station for birdwatching. It might even be possible to realise the winter feeding of eagles with carcasses, he reckons.
“But if I did set up a photography booth here for the spotting of beasts of prey and even if I did benefit from it economically, it would still inconvenience other reindeer entrepreneurs in the area. I do not want that. Look, if the city folks are so interested in bears, why don’t they set up the photography booth in the cities?”
FACTFILE: Wildlife? What Wildlife?
In Kuhmo and Suomussalmi at the end of the 1970s, wildlife photographers started the carcass-feeding of brown bears, and in the 1990s this developed into a tourism product under the Wildlife banner.
Bird enthusiasts have helped eagles and goshawks get through the winters by carrion-feeding.
Around 30 family firms are active in the predator tourism business, along the eastern border from Northern Karelia up to Kuusamo, with the main emphasis around Kuhmo and Suomussalmi.
The companies' biggest draw is sighting and photographing bears in the wild. Wolves, wolverines, and eagles are also important species.
Most of the clients come from the UK, Germany, Holland, and France.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 28.5.2012
Previously in HS International Edition:
Ringed seal tourism is on the rise in Lake Saimaa (31.5.2011)
Mother bear in Kuhmo in Eastern Finland gives birth to third set of quadruplet cubs (7.9.2010)
The fearsome wolf (7.4.2010)
Kainuu predators sitting ducks for foreign nature photographers (20.9.2005)
Reindeer herders see rise in income (16.5.2012)
Minister Sirkka-Liisa Anttila would allow a revival of the spring hunting of bears (1.2.2011)
Reindeer harassed by wolf pack rescued in Kainuu Province (21.11.2006)
International Centre for Reindeer Husbandry - Challenges
JENNI LEUKUMAAVAARA / Helsingin Sanomat