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Falklands : Falklands Reindeer Round-up
Submitted by Falkland Islands News Network (Juanita Brock) 21.04.2010 (Article Archived on 05.05.2010)

In the middle of February 2010 a further attempt was made to have a complete muster of the reindeer herd situated at Albemarle.


By Steve Pointing


(As Published in April’s Wool Press)


In the middle of February 2010 a further attempt was made to have a complete muster of the reindeer herd situated at Albemarle. A similar attempt was made in January 2009 and you can read about it in the March 2009 WP edition (vol 230). After that unsuccessful attempt some recommendations were made as to what needed to be done in the intervening year in order to increase the chances of subsequent round ups being 100% successful.


Well many changes were made in the intervening year but I am sorry to have to report that the 2010 round up was still not 100% successful although great progress has been made from the year before.


One of the most important recommendations made in 2009 was that the reindeer needed to be visited on a much more regular basis so that they became accustomed to the presence of human beings. As many of you will know the management of Albemarle Station changed in the course of 2009 with Gonz Hobman and Helen Wallace taking over the running of the farm from August onwards.


Unsurprisingly for new tenants the situation with the reindeer herd was not their top priority – they needed to make an income from the sheep and that is where their effort was directed. Despite having limited time available Gonz and Helen did, however, manage to make some alterations to the Shanty paddock and build a new manger in the Kit’s Camp paddock to help direct the reindeer into the newly constructed gateway in the northern fence line of the Shanty paddock.


You will see from one of the photographs in this piece that during fence construction some of the reindeer came up to Gonz and were happy to accept feed from a bucket. So a great deal of progress has been made in this area and if more time had been available to Helen and Gonz I believe that the reindeer could have become even tamer during the year. Gonz tells me that he should have more time available in 2010 and he seems keen to spend some of this with the reindeer herd.


On arrival at Albemarle Timmy Bonner and I headed straight out to the Three Crowns/Kit’s camp area of Albemarle and in the course of the next 2 or 3 hours we managed to round up the largest group of reindeer and entice them to the Shanty paddock and close the gate behind them. What a start – we really thought that the Gods were smiling on us. We settled down for the night in the Shanty thinking all we’d need to do in the morning was to get the reindeer into our newly constructed mobile cattle pens.


Wednesday morning dawned bright and clear. We heard Gonz arriving on his quad bike and he then did a sweep of the shanty paddock only to report that there was no sign of any reindeer and that they had broken out through a corner of the fence at the seaward end of the paddock. Not a good start to the day!


Much of the rest of that day was spent trying to get the reindeer back into the Shanty paddock and we finally succeeded again in the early afternoon. We then constructed our mobile yards at a point in the paddock where we thought we had the best chance of getting the reindeer to run into them. About three hours later after circumnavigating the perimeter of the paddock several times we eventually managed to get 13 out of the 40 reindeer in the group into our mobile yards. It wasn’t enough to do all the things we’d have liked to do with them (castrations, ear tagging etc) but it was a big step forward from the previous year.


We were, however, able to observe the reindeer at very close quarters and even lay hands on a few of them. Generally the reindeer are in excellent condition with this year’s fawns already about ¾ the size of their mothers. We were visiting in February – 4 to 6 weeks before the start of the mating season.


At this time the reindeer had formed themselves into groups. The largest group consisted of 40 animals and this is the one that we managed to get into the Shanty paddock. It consisted of the adult females and their young and yearling males and females.


We also noticed a further 2 groups of bachelor males – one group of 5 large stags and another of 6 slightly smaller, younger stags. Without observing them on a more regular basis I do not know how these groups realign themselves in the breeding season and for how long the males may join the main group. This would be useful information to collect and would probably be best done by the farm manager who is on the property all year round.


During our visit we noticed that the reindeer spent quite a lot of time happily grazing the diddle-dee and we also checked to see if there was any damage to the large stands of tussock in this area. I am pleased to be able to report that the established tussock appears to be in rude health and that new young plants were appearing above the ground all around the established stands. At this point in time and with the current stocking density (max. 60 reindeer in 600 hectares of grazing) the tussock does not appear to be suffering at all.


The next attempt


We came very close this year to getting all the reindeer in the main group into a temporarily erected set of yards. We think we could do even better at our next attempt if the following steps are taken over the succeeding months:


1. For Gonz and Helen to visit the reindeer on a much more regular basis and offer them some feed. There is no doubt that the reindeer are easier to handle when they are used to the presence of human beings rather than seeing them just once a year.


2. To keep open the gates into the Shanty paddock so that this area becomes part of their normal grazing territory.


3. At some stage to construct a holding facility at or near the gateway into the Shanty paddock so that the reindeer can move through this area and not be frightened by the construction when the next round up attempt is made. This is an obvious problem with temporarily erected mobile yards.


4. To divide the Shanty paddock in two with each area being about 12 hectares. This would mean that the reindeer were contained in a smaller area and should make the final rounding up process a bit easier.


It was both an enjoyable and frustrating experience but I am very hopeful that our next attempt will be even more successful than our most recent one.


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