Long gone from most parts of Europe, but luckily not from here – and it is something we should be very proud of!
The wild reindeer herds in Rondane, Dovrefjell, Sunndalsfjella and Sølnkletten represent the last remnants of original European mountain reindeer stocks, and thus have earned special international protection. And you can see this exotic wild reindeer on tours through the local mountains – a reindeer species that has been rambling here since the Ice Age!
Wild reindeer are also an important barometer for the status of the environment in the northern regions. The species’ important winter feed, lichen, soaks up radioactive particles and heavy metals that are transported over long distances by way of acid rain. No other animals in the country are as vulnerable to radioactive particles and heavy-metal pollution as the local wild reindeer.
The need to cross over large areas is unique to the lifestyle of the wild reindeer. Large, contiguous areas are therefore needed so that the wild reindeer can survive. The animal has adapted its way of life in relation to the varying amounts of snow from coast to inland throughout the year.
Before vehicle roads, railway lines, hydroelectric power facilities and mountain cabin communities were built throughout the region, the wild reindeer travelled over considerably larger areas than they do today. Because of small amounts of snow, Rondane and Knutshø were used for winter pasture, and during the spring the wild reindeer would cross over Dovrefjell to Sunndalsfjellene. In the autumn, the wild reindeer crossed back to the winter pasture areas.
The wild reindeer are especially well adapted to life in the high mountains. It has a coat that insulates extremely well in strong wind and low temperatures, and the reindeer’s hooves are also specially adapted to their environment — they are so large that they function as snowshoes in the snow. The hooves are also excellent for digging in the snow.
Wild reindeer is the only animal that is able to survive on golden-white lichen, which is in rich supply in local mountain areas with little snow. Having to survive on this plant with minimal nutrient value during the winter, however, means that the reindeer have a very low energy level once the winter is over.
A well-functioning mountain ecosystem is characterised by sustainable stocks of wild reindeer, wolverine, mountain fox, golden eagle and raven. The Snøhetta area and surrounding mountains are the only high-mountain ecosystem in Western Europe where these species live in the same area. Of these species, the mountain fox is extremely rare in our area and in the rest of the country.
The reindeer’s natural enemies, the wolverine and the golden eagle, cull weaker animals and calves during the year. The interplay between the three species is one of the important reasons for preserving this natural balance through conservation efforts.
Ever since the Stone Ages, man has harvested from the mountain’s natural resources. The first hunters used bow and arrow, but more organised hunting systems developed over time – graphically demonstrated by remnants of some 3000 hunting pits used to capture individual animals and even entire herds. Such unique trapping sites are to be found throughout large parts of the region. The mass trapping facilities are of particular importance from a national perspective.
A total of 750 hunting pits have been registered in Rondane, and about 1200 hunting pits have been registered in an area running along the E6 highway across Dovrefjell.
The wild reindeer have been here in this country ever since the ice that covered this land began to melt. And humans were quick to follow these animals and depended on them for their survival. The hunters and trappers left behind a renewable, sustainable nature habitat – will we be able to do the same in the years ahead?
In the course of the past 100 years, many traditional wild reindeer areas in Norway have been divided up as a result of modern-day encroachments and disturbances. This is also the case in Dovrefjell, Sunndalsfjella and Rondane. This large, contiguous area is today divided into 5 sub-areas. You and I will be responsible for deciding the future of this invaluable heritage!