During fieldwork for our Arc Ark research project, I walk the street in Sakkyryr, the central village of the Eveno-Bytantay Ulus (District) of the Sakha Republic, Yakutia, East Siberia. I stop to take a picture of two beautiful white cows as they feed on something I can’t quite identify, out on the street at minus 20 degrees
The previous blog topic by Anna on humans and animals is very prominent in the programme of the upcoming super-interesting “Beyond Perception” conference at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.
The conference takes key topics of Tim Ingold’s work as starting points and explores in five sessions how researchers – from anthropology and also other disciplines – have worked with these ideas in their work. Ingold’s work has inspired a whole generation of anthropologists well beyond the North, not least because his ideas are so inviting for critical ethnographic scrutiny and discussion. As Arctic Anthropology has been a lot about human-animal relations, the perception of the environment in general and movement, this multidisciplinary conference will surely be extremely inspiring for any of our readers to attend. Early bird registration is now open until July 1. Check out their website here.
The joint field trip to a reindeer farm in Finland in April was the first experience of a collaborative work of social and natural scientists to understand processes of animal adaptation to extreme Arctic environments. The ‘Arctic Ark’ project (Arctic Ark. Human-animal adaptation to the Arctic environment: natural and folk selection practices, 2015-2018) consists of two distinct but integrated parts. Natural scientists are dealing with the detailed animal biological genome to get more insights about nature evolution. Changes in physiology and metabolism here are crucial to adapt to annually changing, specific vegetation and cold temperature. Comparison with the samples from other animals and regions can greatly contribute to better understanding of adaptive processes in the North.
Anthropologists focus on local knowledge and practices related to selective breeding and desired use of animals. Slaughtering is part of reindeer breeding and it was a good occasion for us to learn more about selective choices of reindeer herders – why were these particular animals selected? Anyway, we anthropologists (Nuccio Mazzullo and me) and our master student Leon Fuchs, without any previous experience of sampling, learned a lot about sophisticated methods of collecting tissues and contributed as much as we could to the samples preservation by our colleagues, at least holding the lid of nitrogen container or labeling glass tubes.
Joining the reindeer feeding was for the anthropologists a great possibility to get insights about the different activities needed to keep animals healthy and to learn more about the concept of the ‘beautiful herd’.
Here are Leon’s (Arctic Centre/University of Versailles) notes on feeding:
“In wintertime, reindeer are kept together in a large outdoor enclosure. The herder mainly feeds them with artificial food. To do this, he uses his snowmobile and pulls a trailer loaded with granules into the forest. Once in the enclosed area, reindeer follow the snowmobile and run around the herder. They seem to know what is going on and they appear to be quite used to the process. The trailer is designed in a way that the food is spread throughout the pen in a sufficiently fair manner for every reindeer, and the animals align themselves to get food in a straight line. After only a few minutes, the food is all gone and reindeer go a bit further away in the forest. While feeding the animals, the herder also talked about the colors of reindeer, their antlers and health issues. Besides, he showed us some particular trees and explained that he sometimes cuts branches to feed reindeer and clean the forest”.
Arctic Ark. Human-animal adaptations to the Arctic environment: natural and folk selection practices (Arc-Ark)
The Arctic is often seen as a biodiversity-poor region, where animal husbandry is solely based on herding of reindeer (Rangifer tarandus). However, in northern Europe and Siberia, also breeding of special autochthonous cattle (Bos taurus) and horse (Equus caballus) breeds has a long tradition (for example, Northern Finncattle, Yakutian cattle, Mezen horse and Yakutian horse). Continue reading “Arctic Ark: new project on animal breeds, species and human practices in the Arctic”