As part of the Ice Run journey, we’re exploring the Finnish Lapland, one of the coolest parts of Europe. We did plenty of fun winter activities like snowmobiling and ice-fishing, here’s a story about meeting a reindeer herder in Rovaniemi.
I’ve always imagined reindeers to have the power to whisk me into the sky, just like Santa Claus’ reindeer sleigh. But on our reindeer caravan, we are swaying in a slow, hypnotic rhythm. Not that I’m complaining – the pristine nature around us us in Luosto is absolutely gorgeous: powdery white snow cloaks whole area in white, while tall pine firs soar into the sky, with tiny water streams trickling into the valley.
After a short ride around the forest, we meet reindeer Herder Anssi Kiiskinen, one of the many reindeer herders in the Luosto region of the Finnish Lapland. He runs the reindeer farm Kopara with his family. Here in Lapland, most people still make a living from reindeer herding. It’s no surprise since there are more reindeers than people in Lapland (over 200,000 reindeers and 180,000 people). The Finnish government maintains the reindeer population at 200,000 to make sure that the population continues to breed at a healthy rate.
All of these reindeers are semi-wild; they’re owned by someone but they are free to roam wherever they want. Reindeers tend to hang around in the same area all their lives, and usually only go as far as 60km. For these reindeer herders, selling the reindeers’ meat and skin is their main source of income. The most important time of the year for them is in June, the start of the new year for reindeers as they all have calves during this period. Herders then go into the forests at the end of July to mark the calves. Around October and November, they head back into the forest again to count their reindeers and take the selected ones to the slaughter house.
A Way of Life
Spotting bright blond hair and blue eyes, Anssi is a well-educated man in his thirties. Unlike his peers, he has chosen to stay in Rovaniemi to continue his father’s reindeer herding business which has been running for over 200 years. But to Anssi, it’s not just about keeping family traditions.
“I love being out in the forest. It’s the only place where I can be free!”, says Anssi. “The best thing about my job is that everyday is different. Nature decides and makes all the rules.”
Even though reindeer herding doesn’t make him rich, Anssi is extremely happy with his life. “Freedom is more important to me than money.”
It’s obvious that reindeer herding is not just a job, but also a way of life. Sadly, reindeer herding is a dying trade in Finland. These days, the number of reindeer herders in Lapland is decreasing as more people are moving south in search of greener pastures. The presence of bears and wolverines is also lowering the reindeer population and making it an unprofitable business.
How long will reindeer herding continue? Nobody knows the answer but as long as people like Anssi keeps their passion burning, there will still be a future for the reindeers.
Anssi sharing with his story
Anssi’s uncle who runs Kopara with him
Disclaimer: This trip was made possible by Lapland – the North of Finland, but all opinions expressed are our own.