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What happens in a reindeer round-up?

Reindeer wander freely in the nature of Northern Finland. However, they are semi-domesticated animals: every reindeer has an owner. But how do the owners know where their reindeer are, how many of them may have disappeared and how many new fawns have been born?

That’s why regular reindeer round-ups are needed.

There are special kinds of reindeer round-up fences all over Lapland. In Finnish they are called “erotusaita” meaning litterally separation fence.

Above: Large numbers of reindeer are gathered to these fences from the surrounding areas a few times a year. In the actual round-up they are being separated to different kinds of smaller groups, according to their destination or owner.

Before the round-up the reindeer are being watched to see which fawn follows which mother. This is how the owners find all their new fawns.

Above: The most hectic and crucial place is a round fence called kirnu. Kirnu is usually situated in the middle of several other fences and there are doors in every direction. Here the actual separation takes place.

This is how it goes:

  1. The reindeer waiting in the big fence are taken into the kirnu in small groups.
  2. In the kirnu the reindeer owners capture, recognize, document and sort every reindeer. New fawns get their earmarks.
  3. The vet monitors all this and vaccinates the animals.
  4. One by one, every reindeer is being sent out of the kirnu. The bookkeeper writes down all the information.

It’s interesting to see what’s going on in kirnu, that’s why there’s often a curious audience.

Above: How do the owners recognize their animals? Every owner has a registered earmark, so reindeer owners can recognize every reindeer only by taking a look at their ears. During the round-up every new fawn gets its ears marked.

Above: In the kirnu reindeer are also marked with spray tags and fur marks to easily keep count of all the animals also after they have been liberated back to the nature.

Above: One by one every reindeer gets sent out of the kirnu. There’s always a bookkeeper registering each reindeer according to what the reindeer owners in kirnu report to him or her. This person keeps count on how many reindeer each owner has, and whether these animals are male, female or fawn.

Above: Reindeer on the left side have already been counted, marked and documented in the kirnu. The ones on the right are still waiting for their turn.

The amount of reindeer in reindeer round-ups vary quite a lot. In the Northern parts of Lapland there can be as many as 3000-5000 reindeer in the big fence at once. However, in the South it’s common to have anything between 150-1000 reindeer in the fence. The pictures of this article were taken in a round-up that had about 300 reindeer.

When the round-up is done, all the animals get to return to the nature. The owners now have an up-to-date knowledge on how many reindeer they own and that all their animals are in good shape.

If you ever get to participate to a reindeer round-up, consider yourself lucky! Only reindeer-owners get to know when and where the next round-up is going to be, and they often get the information only a day before. So if you’re in Lapland already and it’s either September, October, November or December, you can contact the local tourist information to check if they knew any upcoming round-ups nearby.

Every man’s best friend, Siberian Jay – Meeting the soul-bird in Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park.

When you walk through the nature in northern parts of Finland, especially in Lapland, you will most likely end up meeting a new friend during your lunch or coffee break.

Siberian Jays are known for being fearless and tame, and they will often land close to you immediately when you pause and dig up your lunch or snack. For hundreds of years these birds have been companions to hunters and rangers in the woods. In the Finnish folklore Siberian Jay was called a ‘soul-bird’ and when a ranger died his spirit was believed to move to one of these birds.

Siberian Jay is a member of the crow family but is much smaller compared to the actual crow. Their colour is grayish brown with beautiful bright rust-coloured markings on their rumps, the edges of their tails and wings. This bird lives mostly in the northern boreal forests of spruce and pine, the so called taiga area.

I’ve never met a Siberian Jay as close as I did on my latest trip to Pallas-Yllästunturi Nationalpark in western Lapland. These little fellows were so tame and eager to get a piece of my food that they even landed on my hand. I felt gratitude to meet the soul-bird so close.

I spotted Siberian Jays almost everywhere in the woods and forest parts of Pallas-Yllästunturi Nationalpark. But these pictures are from an easy 3 km trail called Saivionkierros, which is located near Ylläs and Äkäslompolo village in Kolari. If you are interested in this or other hiking trails around the Ylläs area you can find more information via this link.

If you meet one of these birds on your travels in Lapland you can offer them a small piece of white bread, but remember that salt and salty foods are not healthy or good for them.

Make friends with a reindeer – it’s easier than you think, as long as you’ve got some treats

In Northern Finland there are several reindeer parks where one can meet and feed some super cute domesticated reindeer.

One of these parks, a reindeer park called Kopara, is situated in Luosto area in the middle of Lapland. One day I went there with my husband and his daughter.

I must confess, I’m crazy about reindeer. I was much more excited about meeting these animals than the six-year-old was. She is born and raised in Lapland, so to her reindeer are not that exotic. I, however, come from Southern Finland, where there are no reindeer whatsoever.

In Lapland you can see reindeer herds roaming free practically anywhere. Those animals are quite shy: they are only semi-domestic. There are over 200 000 reindeer in Finland and each one of them has an owner. Somewhere.

In reindeer parks the animals are much braver: they are used to getting some treats from reindeer-loving tourists. That’s why they actually come running towards you to see if you have something yummy to give them.

In Kopara there is this big chest full of reindeer food in front of the fence. After having paid just a few euros you get to go there and feed the reindeer. Just take some food and hand it over to them. They won’t bite.

Reindeer don’t really enjoy being pet. They withdraw as soon as you run out of food pellets. Luckily, you can always give them some more treats from the chest. We spent about 15 minutes feeding these reindeer, before we got too cold (remember to wear some really warm clothes!)

In Kopara there is also a café and a souvenir boutique. They also offer a variety of reindeer experiences and they actually have a few celebrity reindeer as well. Read more here: Kopara homepage

This place is right next to Pyhä-Luosto National Park.

Learn more about Finnish reindeer here.

This is one of the rarest seals in the world – check out the addictive live webcam!

The Saimaa ringed seal is a real cutie. It is also one of the rarest seals in the world. They live in lake Saimaa, which is the biggest lake in Finland. Nowhere else can you find this chubby big-eyed fellow but here.

However, this May WWF makes it possible for you to spot these seals no matter where you are. On the webcam called Norppalive you can keep an eye on a rock where seals are known to spend time.

This webcam is very addictive! Check out if any seals can be seen right here, right now: NORPPALIVE WEBCAM

Photo copyright: WWF

Polar bears in Finland… really?!

What do you know about Finland is often asked from foreigners. And sometimes the answer is cold weather, a lot of snow and polar bears walking around. At this point the inquirer may smile a bit. We are not in Spitsbergen, there you have to be aware of polar bears, in Finland not. We only have brown bears and they live in the wilderness. It is very rare if you see this brown predator even when hiking in nature.

But to be honest there are polar bears, too. Only three creatures and they live in Ranua Wildlife Park. Let’s take a closer look to these great animals and some others, too.

Mama Venus and her wild cub

A polar bear cub was born in Ranua Zoo in November 2016. The proud mother showed this cute little one to a curious audience in March this year. It is a remarkable thing that a captured polar bear gives birth and that the cub survives his first weeks. Only once before has this succeeded in Finland. The same mother, Venus, had a baby boy in 2012, and when the cub named as Ranzo got older, he was transferred to an Austrian Zoo in Vienna.

Hey, what’s that!?

This new born cub is a wild package and his mother has a lot to do with him. I visited Ranua Zoo in April and it was so much fun to follow their doings. Papa bear, Manasse, also lives in the same zoo, but he has his own area. Male polar bears may even attack and eat their own cubs, so they have to keep separated.

The empire of Manasse

Papa bear Manasse

It is a breathtaking experience to see these huge white bears at close range. Sadly this king of winter has become a symbol of climate change.

Lunch time!

The adorable cub has no name yet. There is a naming competition going on, check here: http://ranua-zoo.sivuviidakko.fi/suuri-nimikilpailu-eng.html

Our Finnish brown bear hibernates through the winter, and now it is the time they usually come out from their winter nests. Same happens in the zoo. There were two bears awake, but the other one still seemed a bit tired, so after a short walk she went back to sleep. 

I’m going to take a nap now!

What else is to be found in the Ranua Zoo? A lot, but these domestic ones are my favourites:

A wolf, the ancestor of all dogs. An endangered species which lives all over Finland. I love wolves. There is just something mysterious about them.

The area of wolves

Another also very endangered species is wolverine. Usually this small carnivore does not breed in zoos, but in 2014 wolverine cubs were born in Ranua Zoo.

And then there is lynx! A beautiful cat who has bobble ears. I am more of a dog person, but this wild cat I do like!

READ MORE: english.ranuazoo.com

What are Santa’s reindeer like?

We know Rudolph, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen and the other reindeer pulling Santa’s Important Sleigh by name, but really nothing else. I went to find out what Santa’s reindeers are really like. They live all around Lapland, some in Torassieppi, Muonio.

reindeer1

Meet Rolle, one of Santa’s less famous reindeer. The antlers are pretty impressive! Rolle is always willing to work hard and he is very patient with humans (and elves). He stood still for the photo shoot like a real pro model. Did you know that reindeer see ultraviolet light! The world looks very different with Rolle’s eyes.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to meet Rudolph, as he was resting and saving his energy for the Big Day. But there are big personalities amongst the others as well.

Antlers are a signal of fitness

The bigger the antlers, the better father material you are in the eyes of the ladies. Lads cannot cheat and grow ridiculously large antlers, however, as it is up to genes and fitness how large they grow. 

Unlike other deer, female reindeer have antlers too, although smaller ones. Most likely the function is to better defend their young.

reindeer2

Antlers grow at astonishing speed, as much as 2 cm per day! Reindeer antlers are the largest of all deers, relative to body size.

Reindeer shed their antlers once a year, males after the rutting (mating) season. Some hold on to their crown until Christmas, probably to show off when travelling with Santa. Others won’t get rid of them until spring! Big antlers are heavy to carry and not very handy in thick forest, so there is really no need to keep them after the ladies have seen them in Autumn. Females loose their antlers in the summer.

Reindeer are not fussy with food

The favourite food of reindeer is lichen. But in the forest during their summer holidays reindeer also munch mushrooms and plants. It has been counted that reindeer eat over 350 different species of plant! The strategy is to pile up weight as much as possible before the long winter.

reindeer3

In Torassieppi the elves feed the reindeer an armful of hay a day, plus some protein rich lichen and reindeer pellets. To keep them in shape.

In the winter they smell food under a thick layer of snow. They have a very good sense of smell, it is reindeer’s most import sense.

His name is Aaro. He can be a bit moody and doesn’t get along with everybody. Aaro tends to prefer female elves and co-operates well with them! He does like his caretaker Tommi (at the background), with whom he goes sledding often.

Extreme cold doesn’t bother

Reindeer can manage in extreme cold, in -50 degrees of Celsius.

My lungs hurt if I ski at full speed in -25 C. Reindeer warm cold air in the long nose before it enters lungs.

But the coolest (or warmest) trick is in the fur: They have a very thick underlayer of hair, and overcoat is made of stiff, hollow hair that traps air for insulation. Actually Santa’s reindeer could make their journey by swimming, as the air trapping fur works like a life vest!

reindeer5

I personally often get cold feet even in my warmest shoes. Reindeer don’t care, even if the temperature in their feet goes near freezing point. They don’t get a frost bite as I would, thanks to a specialised circulation system, in addition to a super cool antifreeze liquid in their bone marrow. True story.

Need to stop for a wee

In Finnish we have a measurement poronkusema which means the distance a reindeer runs without urinating. It is 7-8 km in fact. Reindeer cannot run and pee, so when sledding, they must be stopped at certain intervals so they can use the bathroom. I noticed at least Rolle seemed to empty his bladder every time we stopped on our 3 km sledding trip, just in case. It is actually very dangerous for the reindeer if he can’t go in a long time.

So if you see something yellow on the snow next to your house on Christmas Day, you know what it is!

These guys are sharing a joke. Or they both just love sledding. One of the elves is practising with young Harmikas (1,5 years old), who is too young to participate in Santa’s crew just yet.

 

See reindeer at Harriniva Torassieppi village, Lapland

Map to Torassieppi

The Magical Experience of Photographing Wild Bears in Eastern Finland

We’d been in the hide for around five hours, slowly watching the summer evening envelope the view before us: a still lake fringed by forest.

Bears in Finland

The lake had begun to steam as the sun began to set – the hot day cooling – and mayflies flickered in the golden brilliance.

Bears in Finland

“Bear!” Chris whispered.

I couldn’t see it a first, then a snout peeked from behind a tree, followed by the furry bulk of a bear as it emerged from the forest to the edge of the small lake.

Bears in Finland

It took a moment to find the bear through the lens on my camera, I’m not used to using a longer lens. I pressed the shutter button. The bear was ambling hesitantly towards the hide; it edged around the lake before reaching a stop and looking straight at us. I fired the shutter again.

All of a sudden the bear was alert, spooked. It turned and headed back towards the forest. I realised I’d been holding my breath!

The bear meandered around the curve of the lake and came to a stop, snuffling at the water’s edge.

Bears in Finland

The sun had just dipped behind the forest leaving a golden glow filtering through the trees and the night had taken on an ethereal light. A mist danced over the still lake.

Sniffing the air, the bear was reflected in the watery mirror; I couldn’t take my eyes off the magical scene.

A second later the bear vanished back into the forest yet the magical moment hung there for a second: did that really happen?

We were in a tiny wooden hide deep in the wilderness – just a few kilometres from the border with Russia – at Wild Brown Bear Centre, a company in Kuhmo, eastern Finland, specialising in wildlife photography of wild bears and other wild animals.

After the bear had vanished back into the forest nothing much happened for the rest of the evening except a brief appearance by a red fox. I curled up in the lower bunk of the hide and read a book for a while before drifting off into a light sleep.

Bears in Finland

An hour after midnight Chris woke me: “There’s another bear!”

I crawled sleepily out of the sleeping bag and perched onto the chair, squinting into the twilight, my eyes adjusting to the semi-darkness.

The bear was walking towards us, and he was big!

Bears in Finland

He strolled casually past the hide, so close we could hear him snuffle.

I remembered my camera was still set up and I fired a few sleepy shots. The settings were all wrong and the photographs were woefully underexposed. It didn’t matter: I won’t be forgetting this moment for a long time.

To be so near to a wild brown bear was thrilling: just a thin plywood wall stood between us and this majestic carnivore yet I felt perfectly safe.

I’m sure those bears wandered through my dreams that night, I slipped back into bed and the next thing I knew it was morning. Sunlight was streaming into the hide and the view beyond the window had transformed with the dawn.

Bears in Finland

It had been an unforgettable night, woven with moments so magical that they seemed improbable in the harsh light of day.

The moments were fleeting yet enchanted: a fantastic story rather than a wildlife spectacle.

A few days later, I was walking through the forest in a Patvinsuo national park late in the evening, the low sun burned through the boughs as I gathered blueberries. I wasn’t alone in these forests, somewhere deep in its heart were bears, I’d now seen them with my own eyes!

As well as the wildlife observation hides, The Wild Brown Bear Centre has accommodation, however we stayed in our camper on site for a small fee instead and had access to showers and sauna.

The bears are completely wild, they are encouraged to wander into the vicinity of the hides with tiny amounts of food left in photogenically strategic places.

Bears in Finland

As well as photographing bears, there is also the chance of seeing wolverine, wolves, and lynx.
Bears in Finland
We visited Wild Brown Bear as independent travellers, through our own choice and paid for the experience with our own money as part of an amazing two month road trip around Finland over the summer of 2016.

This story was originally posted on my own blog www.vagabondbaker.com, I have re-edited some of the text for this post.

Wild Brown Bear Oy: www.wildbrownbear.fi