Hungry Russian soldiers helped poach wild reindeer to extinction, scientist says

Reprint from: The Record (Kitchener-Waterloo), March 23, 2002

Vladivostok – Poachers have wiped out wild reindeer in one of their habitats in Russia's Far East, a scientist said yesterday, and he said that the Russian military was mostly to blame.

"We haven't seen a single reindeer," said Vladimir Fil, one of the Ecology and Nature Use Institute scientists who inspected the northern end of the Kamchatka peninsula last week in a fourday helicopter expedition. "Anecdotal evidence is that there still are 30 to 40 specimens but these reindeer would be too few to survive (as a species)," Fil said. He said reindeer in the area numbered up to 5,000 before 1991.

Most of northern Kamchatka is occupied by Russia's Strategic Missile Forces, Fil said.

He said the reindeer population in that area began shrinking in the 1990s following the demise of the Soviet Union and a sharp decrease in Russia's military spending. Financial problems prompted local commanders to look for ways to supplement rations, he said.

"They took to shooting reindeer when soldiers went hungry," Fil said, adding that he often witnessed the poaching when he was based in the area a few years ago.