Russia's Arctic North is home to the largest reindeer herd in the world: An estimated 730,000 reindeer reside there.
Herders select and sort reindeer inside an enclosure on Nov. 29, 2016. | (REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin)
But such a dense population can threaten the fragile landscape of Siberia's northern Yamal region and cause more frequent epidemics within the local nomadic communities of the Nenet people.
To protect the landscape and their people, Nenet herders take part in an annual "slaughter campaign," a government program that provides herders with a stipend for participation. During November and December, herders across the region will kill up to 70,000 reindeer. This year, for the first time, the culling season will stretch through January to encourage even higher numbers.
Reindeer herding among the Nenet people is a tradition that goes back centuries — the Nenets relied on the reindeer hide and meat for survival during the brutal winters. Now, the annual cull, which was instituted by the Russian government during the Soviet era, provides the Nenets with a sustainable income from the stipend and the commercially-sold meat. But the cull is not without its critics. "It is an unequivocal tragedy for both people and animals," said one coordinator for Greenpeace in Russia. "It will end up with nomadic reindeer herders turning into settled reindeer farmers. This is a completely different form of husbandry, and means the loss of a culture."
Below, take a look at the macabre life of one group of reindeer herders, doing the work of their ancestors in Russia's Arctic North.
A tent belonging to reindeer herders in the tundra, Nov. 27, 2016. | (REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin)
Herders select and sort reindeer. | (REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin)
Severed reindeer antlers. | (REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin)
Farm employees process reindeer skin. | (REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin)