Sámi call to protect reindeer in Sweden after 10,000 road deaths in five years

Sweden’s Sámi parliament is calling for more protection for reindeer after more than 10,000 were killed by motorists in the last five years, turning roadsides into “animal graveyards”.

According to police, between October 2018 and October 2023 there were more than 10,000 road accidents in northern Sweden involving at least one reindeer, meaning the number killed is likely to be far higher.

The worst affected area was the road between Skröven and Moskojärvi, which lie south-east of the northern city of Kiruna.

The Sámi people are recognised by the Swedish government as the country’s Indigenous people, and their elected parliament – which advocates on behalf of Sámi culture – is based in Kiruna.

The reindeer, who are brought down to lower land from the mountains for the winter, are attracted to the salt laid out to de-ice the roads, which have become increasingly busy in recent years as a result of increased industrial activity such as mining.

Jan Rannerud, the chair of the reindeer husbandry committee in the Sámi parliament, said more action was required to protect the 200,000-300,000-strong reindeer population, including lower speed limits and more game fencing and nature passages.

“Naturally, it’s very sad for those who are affected,” said Rannerud, who has been working with reindeer all his life, the last 45 years as a herder. “It is a heavy burden to see your animals run over.”

He blamed an enormous increase in traffic and higher driving speeds. The climate crisis was also a contributing factor, he said, with wet snow driving herds towards areas where there are major roads.

The Sámi parliament has expressed concern about the changing conditions in the reindeer industry as a result of global heating, with rising temperatures making winter snow conditions more difficult for moving and feeding reindeer.

Reindeer husbandry plays an important function in the Sámi community. Rannerud said the relationship was often on an individual basis, with some reindeer so tame that you could almost “pat them on the back”.

He put state inaction on reindeer protection down to money, saying it was cheaper to pay the few thousand kronor cost of a dead reindeer than to build a multimillion-kronor fence.

Joacim Lundqvist, a police wildlife coordinator, said it was normal to see dead reindeer on the side of the roads. He said reindeer could not survive road traffic accidents and had to be euthanised.

“It’s terrible. They lie there like in an animal graveyard,” he said. “In some places you can see 10-15 reindeer in a short stretch of road.”

The police, other authorities and Sámi villages must find solutions, he said. “The situation as it is now is escalating and unsustainable.”