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REINDEER TREKS FOR A NEW DECADE

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 

 

Reindeer were re-introduced into Scotland in 1952 by a Swedish Reindeer Herder, Mikel Utsi. Starting from a few reindeer, the herd has grown in numbers over the years and is currently held at between 130 and 150 by controlling breeding. Living in their natural environment out on the Cairngorm Mountains and the Cromdale Hills, this is a fantastic opportunity to encounter an animal living freely.

Mikel Utsi F.R.A.I

Mikel Utsi and his wife Dr. Ethel Lindgren were the co-founders of the Reindeer Company and introduced the reindeer into the Cairngorms back in 1952. Mr. Utsi devoted his latter years to the practical day to day management of the project, and it was his own zeal and devotion to reindeer that really made the project a success. Dr. Lindgren supported him throughout and continued his efforts after 1979 when he died until her death in 1988. Below is an account of the introduction of the reindeer into Scotland written by Mikel Utsi himself..

"Looking across Rothiemurchus Forest to the Cairngorms from the railway bridge at Aviemore on a cold morning in April 1947, I was instantly reminded of reindeer pastures in Lapland. Travel in the Highlands showed that many species of ground, rock and tree lichens, which are elsewhere the chief food of reindeer, were plentiful and of little use to other animals. Red deer and domestic livestock were grazing on grass and plants less important to reindeer. Later, I heard that, according to the Orkneyinga saga, red deer and reindeer were hunted together in Caithness by the Earls of Orkney about eight centuries ago. I also learned that small groups of reindeer had been introduced by landowners into northern parts of Britain in the last two centuries, but had soon died."

In 1952, I brought some of my Swedish mountain reindeer to Scotland as an experiment, to show that they could live and breed in these surroundings. Official difficulties which had caused delay were overcome mainly through the interest shown by the Press and the influence of the Reindeer Council of the United Kingdom, an advisory and research body which my wife Ethel Lindgren and I founded in 1949. The Reindeer Company Limited was formed to finance the project and was registered in Edinburgh. The main office of both bodies is in Cambridge. [Note 2]

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The first consignment was released in June, after quarantine, on 300 acres near Aviemore, kindly let by the late Lt-Col. J. P. Grant, M.B.E., of Rothiemurchus. The Company had erected two miles of additional six-foot fencing to ensure the isolation which the authorities required. More reindeer followed, some of the forest type, and in 1961 I brought eight from southern Norway. "Kivi", a fine young bull from Whipsnade Park, introduced in 1972, was the off-spring of a Russian reindeer.
Mikel Utsi with his favourite reindeer

From 1953, the Forestry Commission allowed the herd to graze on a 70 acre plantation, enabling the Company to demonstrate that there is no noticeable damage to conifers by reindeer. Further pasture was granted in 1954 by the Commission’s North Conservancy throughout 5900 acres of higher ground in the Glenmore Forest Park, south of Loch Morlich, stretching up to the summits of CairnGorm and Cairn Lochain. By then, the animals were permitted to graze freely like hill sheep, although there are some fenced enclosures.

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Mikel Utsi in Native Lap Costume

The Department of Agriculture for Scotland recognised at the end of 1956, that the project had grown beyond the experimental stage; reindeer breeding could take its place among local forms of livestock rearing. In 1971, the northern Cairngorm slopes were acquired by Highlands & Islands Development Board, which confirmed the Reindeer Company’s lease, extending it to 1985.

The growing herd soon settled down in its Highland home. "Sarek", the wise, mysterious reindeer ox born on Mount Sarek’s slopes in arctic Sweden, was three years old when he came with me on that first journey by road and rail from Murjek to Norrbotten to Narvik. We came across the North Sea on the SS "Sarek" to the Clyde and he led the Scottish herd for twelve years. When reindeer are allowed to graze unfenced on a new ground where there is suitable pasture and nothing frightens them, they centre there, moving slowly further out. If some Cairngorm reindeer stray and are not retrieved by herders, they often turn back of their own accord, guided by their homing instinct and the attraction of mineral licks.

Most calves are born in May and June. Some reindeer are very friendly and a few may follow people about, even searching their rucksacks! In the October rutting season, however, bulls may behave in a threatening manner and are normally de-horned or fenced during that period.

One man can look after a large herd alone for much of the year if there is no outside interference. In Lapland, dogs always help with the herding, but at Glenmore, the reindeer are controlled by a voice they recognise or by tit-bits of special food they have learned to like. The more tractable reindeer may wear a bell and around them others tend to collect. In the Arctic and Sub-Arctic, many herds come down for shelter in the winter, whereas at Glenmore the reindeer often move upwards to drier ground.

In 1953, the herd, while still fenced on relatively low land, suffered from insects on a series of hot, damp summer days and there were losses through ensuing infections. An insect repellent suited to reindeer was finally selected, in consultation with a chemical firm, and a system of spraying worked out which has been successful since 1955.

Groups of animals are brought down to a corral for treatment in the few periods of warm weather, from mid-June to the end of August. There are no "reindeer warbles" to lower the value of the skins because I removed, this parasite from all the imports.

Dogs, which their owners claim to have "under control", are sometimes a serious menace to reindeer, as to other livestock. A strict rule to keep dogs on a lead throughout this area would go far towards safeguarding the herd. The Reindeer Company Limited insures the animals for a substantial sum and the owner of a dog which chases or in any way injures a reindeer is liable to reimburse the insurers.

Why have reindeer in Scotland? They are useful in many ways. The meat is delicious; the animal is bred for meat and can be slaughtered in the right way and at the right time. In 1951-1952, about 400 tons of reindeer meat from Sweden sold quickly in London. When available at Glenmore today, by order, it fetches a good price. The live weight of a mature reindeer bull may be 160 kg and a bull’s clean carcass weighs up to 80 kg. Clothing made of the skin or well-tanned hide is worn even in temperate climates. Reindeer hair has been imported into Britain for weaving into expensive dress materials and for upholstery.

Antlers are carved for crafts. Trained reindeer oxen can pull goods or people on sleds or carry packs. Children may ride them too. Research into the composition of the cream-like reindeer milk, the digestion, skin, antlers, physiology of breeding and other research topics have been aided by the Reindeer Company’s directors and staff and the Council’s archives. Artificial insemination with both fresh and frozen semen has been achieved by the experiments I have carried out in collaboration with the Cambridge scientist Dr. Hector M. Dott.

Herds descended from reindeer imports into new areas have done well. The Alaskan introduction is the best known example. South Georgia, in the Antarctic, has benefited by a herd several thousand strong, bred from about eleven Norwegian reindeer. In Canada, thousands have pastured near the mouth of the Mackenzie River, and tame herds are increasing, for instance, in Greenland. Nor need reindeer live far north. In Norway, there are fine herds at the same altitude as the Orkney Islands.

This well-adapted, accessible herd should be maintained in the Cairngorms, with its traits from Swedish mountain and woodland reindeer, the south Norwegian type and the larger Russian. By the summer of 1975, the Glenmore herd consisted of 100 animals, although culling and live sales had proceeded for years. Over 500 reindeer have been born in Scotland, 1953-1979. Fine specimens have been sold to parks in England and Scotland, breeding successfully in some of their new homes.

In the early years, the growth of the Cairngorm herd was slow, as four weeks’ quarantine in cramped quarters in urban air is hard on far-ranging animals. Scandinavian reindeer are well-known as healthy stock and all those I brought in were covered by Swedish or Norwegian veterinary certificates before embarking. The great advantage in keeping reindeer is that they find their own basic food, even under snow, and require no shelter." back to top

1.) Mikel Utsi died in l979. Dr. E. J. Lindgren, his wife, continued to manage the herd until 1988. In August 1989, Alan J. Smith, the reindeer keeper for the previous 11 years, took over the Reindeer Company with his wife, Elizabeth.
2.) Since August 1989, the office of the Reindeer Company has been based at the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre in Glenmore. The Reindeer Council has been disbanded.

 

 

The Reindeer Company Limited 1952-2013.

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