The Arctic Ark team has presented their work of the last four years in human-animal relations in the Arctic at the Finnish Academy’s final Arktiko Seminar. Studying people’s relations to their domestic pastoral animals in the Arctic using approaches from anthropology and genetics has resulted in some surprising results:
Our work with reindeer, horse and cattle herders in Lapland, Arkhangelsk region and Yakutia has shown that
- people in the Arctic have long relied and still rely on more animal diversity than reindeer and fish
- a very similar set of properties of their pastoral animals is valued by the herders across regions and also across species: the independence, the autonomy of the animals, and the very low level of human care that the animals need in comparison to other more southerly animals are particularly valued. This also comes with the plus that all these animals can wander off and search for their own food, grazing
on sometimes very limited pasture resources. Imported breeds of pastoral animals, like Holstein cattle or Arabian horses would not be able to survive on such resources. And particularly, their would not be able to graze on pastures covered under snow. This is what Sakha horses can, which you do not need to feed at temperatures down to minus 60.
- that in different regions the same species of animals is used in a very diverse way, and this use is culturally determined. We find that the broader the use value of the animal is in the specific society, the more resilient the animal husbandry is to different socio-economic shocks on the human-animal livelihood. A good example for this is the horse: in Yakutia people value the horse as a source of meat, of transport, racing, prestige, milk, hair and spiritual connection to the land. This combination of broad use-application of the horse has led to a steady grow of horse numbers and steady demand for horse products on the market, making this an even economically viably livelihood. On the other hand, in Finland and in Mezen (Arkhangelsk), local horse breeds have lost their economic value almost entirely, since motorised transport replaced them in agriculture and forestry. In these cases, where people do not eat horse meat, the only use – value left for the horses is as a source for tourism and racing.