“Come at me bro!” Reindeer 1, Petra 0.
Kiruna is a mining town in the far north of Sweden, within the Arctic circle. Many families of the Sami people, the native Lapland people, live in the area with their reindeer herds, which of course means the popular tourist activity of reindeer feeding.
While I am not normally one to run headfirst into all mass tourism activities (although I always go for the bucket list ones), I do have a weakness for cute, fluffy or majestic animals and the Lapland reindeer definitely qualify! So, like many before me, I visited the Nutti Sami Siida reindeer experience in Jukkasjärvi, a village near Kiruna. I bought a bag of reindeer feed, a type of Arctic lichen, and got warned by the seller lady that the reindeer will get excited and will try to steal and gulp down my entire feed bag in one go.
Being me, I figured it would be the other way around, as no animal is usually safe from my overly enthusiastic approach, which I even told my mother, who was visiting Kiruna with me at the time. I believe my exact words during lunch were: “let me at ’em, the poor cutie reindeers don’t know what’s coming”. Never have I been so wrong.
It started out ok, we went into the reindeer enclosure late in the day, meaning we were the only people there and the reindeer appeared well fed and did not bother to even look at us. Until I got close with the bag, that is. The exact same moment when the reindeer realised I had a whole bag of their favourite food, was also the moment I realised their antlers were at the exact same height as my eyes (small people problems). Suddenly all of them were chasing me, trying to stick their noses into my bag, completely unaware of the trajectory of their lovely, pointy antlers. The one in the title photo with the one long antler was particularly determined to chase me and you can see me running from him, trying to save at least some of the feed for the other reindeer. Turns out, I did not know what was coming and the two most aggressive reindeer managed to conquer the feed bag quite soon, but they did let me near them, so I guess it was still a win for me.
Note: Since ethical animal tourism is quite the hot topic (and should be!), I’d like to point out that this was not meant to be a petting zoo and that the signs specifically say not the touch the reindeer antlers, because they’re wired with nerves and quite sensitive. It’s a “feed the animals” experience where you get to hang out with the reindeer in a controlled environment, but their enclosure is large enough that they can move away if they’re feeling uncomfortable and you’re not allowed to chase after them or go into their own restricted section. Reindeers are also not wildlife in this case, but rather farm animals, as the Sami people have been breeding reindeer herds for centuries. They still keep their reindeer herds in a traditional manner, which is a part of their culture and includes yearly migrations across Lapland, and they use up everything for food, leather and other animal products.