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last update: August 20, 2003

Finnish  Game  and Fisheries Research Institute 

  Environmental Studies                

       A pilot project of reindeer husbandry with GPS-GSM collars

Photo: Mauri Nieminen

Reindeer husbandry in Finland has been introduced by the Saami people. However Finnish people have raised reindeer for at least 250 - 300 year. Presently there are about 5500 reindeer owners, of which 1000 Saami. The total number of reindeer is approximately 200 000 during winter, and 300 000 during summer.

Fig. 1:  Location of the investigation area in Finland (red symbol)


The main goal of the project is to test if GPS-GSM collars are suitable to deliver “up to date information” about the movement and activity of reindeer. The investigations are part of the (LUIAS) project, which is analysing the interactions between reindeer husbandry and other uses of natural resources. The LUIAS project should result in a theoretical model for a land use interaction analysis system to evaluate and valuate the use of natural resources in respect to reindeer husbandry. Questions are: how select reindeer different kinds of pasture areas? What are the effects of forest handling, roads and settlements on the pasture use of reindeer?


In this pilot project four reindeer of the Oraniemi district have been equiped with GPS-GSM collars (additional 15 reindeer are collared with “normal” GPS collars). The 4 reindeer are carriing a 750 g collar which determines and saves her respective locations via GPS (Global Positioning System). The position data are transmitted directly from the collar by a GSM-modem (Global System for Mobile Communication) via mobile phone to our computer. The collars are programmed to take three fixings per day and sent 7 position data at once, because this way saves money.
Experience the collars will work even with temperatures -55 °C.


Photos: Harri Norberg and
           Heikki Törmänen

On November 29, 2002 two female reindeer (No 211 and 215) and on January 11, 2003 two more (No 220 and 300) have been fitted out with GPS-GSM collars (figure above). The results of their movements are presented in figure 2. The map will be updated every third week. So the reindeer herders will get informations where their reindeer are.

During the first two months after collaring, both female reindeer 211 and 215 moved only few kilometers (fig. 2). Because at the beginning of winter reindeer normaly use a lot of time for grazing, they dig lichens, dwarf shrubs, hays and sedges from the snow.  

Fig. 2: Location points (n=1312) of 4 reindeer until August 18, 2003

In March-April 2003 reindeer herders carried both herds to which reindeer 211 and 300 are belonging  to different logging areas. One of these areas (Suksilehto) is located in the middle of the Oraniemi district,  the other (Äältävittikko) is in the northern part of the Oraniemi district.

When pine and spruce forest become logged a lot of arboreal lichens  from the top and branches of felled trees are available for reindeer. But although those loggings give plenty of food for the reindeer all at once, they usually destroy the whole arboreal lichen pasture for a very long time (80-120 years). Nowadays this is probably the most limiting factor of the pasture resources of reindeer herding.

In April 2003, when the snow cover began to melt, reindeer 211 and 300 left these logging areas and started to search their calving grounds and summer pasture areas. In the contrary, the reindeer 215 and 220 were kept in the herds, which got supplementary feed on the field during February-April but  however, dug their main food (lichens, dwarf shrubs, hays and sedges) from natural pasture. This herding and giving supplementary feed was stopped in April and than also these reindeer started to search their calving grounds and summer pasture areas.

The next picture shows details of reindeeer movement of figure 2.


Copyright: The National Land Survey of Finland licence number 530/MYY/02



During winter reindeer need energy rich food because they have to locomote and dig in deep snow.
However, reindeer are well adapted to stand even very hard snow conditions if there is enough food available (especially lichens and dwarf shrubs)












During summer reindeer can form herds, even thousands of heads.
This small summer herd is changing its pasture area to seek fresh green vegetation and hills for protection of the insect harrasment. Open, large and windy mires with plenty of green vegetation are the best summer pasture areas in the Oraniemi district



Terrestrial lichens especially all Cladonia-species represent an important source of food for reindeer during the winter. The photo shows a dry pine forest with plenty of lichens. Heavy and long term grazing, trampling of reindeer and also the effects of different land use have made this kind of lichen pastures very scarce in the reindeer management area in Finland











Fig. 4:  The effect of heavy grazing and trambling can be seen especially along the left side of the reindeer fence where lichens in the heavily grazed summer range area have nearly totally dissappeared, wheras the right side shows the intact winter range area


Photos: Jouko Kumpula

Reindeer herders start to search their herds  in midsummer when the calf marking starts. Usually they first use an aeroplane in order to find  the reindeer herds easier.
Now it is also possible to use our “GPS/GSM-reindeer” as a pathfinder of their herds.

For more informations please contact:


Dr Jouko Kumpula, Finland, RKTL Kaamanen

Dr Alfred Colpaert, Alfred Colpaert - University of Eastern Finland   

Dr Uli Fielitz, Germany, Environmental Studies,