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Global warming threatens Reindeer herders

More than 2,000 reindeer have died from the highly infectious disease in Russia’s Yamalo-Nenets autonomous district last year according to news reports.

Reindeer herding is an important industry and livelihood for indigenous peoples in the Yamal-Nenets region. An outbreak of anthrax in July and August last year in Yamal-Nenets – the first since 1941 – killed a 12-year-old boy and more than 2,500 reindeer.

A state of emergency was imposed throughout the region in western Siberia due to the incident Temperature in the Yamal tundra above the Arctic Circle hit highs of 35°C last summer, which is 8°C higher than an average, probably a manifestation of climate change.

The carcass of a reindeer thought to have died from anthrax about 70 years ago thawed and released the bacteria, sending the disease rippling through a population of animals weakened by unusually high temperatures according to local officials. A mass vaccination of reindeer was done in the region, but it might had been too late for many of the animals because anthrax can kill deer within three days of infecting them. Yamal authorities stopped vaccinating reindeer 10 years ago because there had been no outbreaks for more than half-a-century. Anthrax has a mortality rate of 25 -80 percent, depending on the strain. Anthrax bacteria can remain dormant in dead bodies for decades, spreading to living organisms when exposed to them.

Average temperatures in Russia have increased by 0.43°C in the past 10 years, but the rise has been more pronounced in areas of the far north. The warmer climate has begun thawing the permafrost soil that covers much of Russia, including cemeteries and animal burial grounds. Thawing permafrost has also led to greater erosion of river banks where nomads often buried their dead. (Floro Mercene)