Investment Portal of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation

Back to the roots

An ancestral community on the Taymyr revives domestic reindeer herding in the Avam tundra while also domesticating musk oxen

26.07.21 // Social activist Denis Terebikhin from the Taymyr village of Volochanka has set himself a more than an ambitious goal: to revive domestic reindeer breeding in the Avam tundra. This is the story of unique experiences and an innovative approach to traditional craftsmanship.

After making a greeting manoeuvre in the sky, the helicopter lands in a clearing near Tucker camp. The reindeer and musk oxen grazing nearby hardly react to the noise of the propellers — they are used to it. Denis Terebikhin frequently hosts visitors: at present, he is the only reindeer herder in the Avam tundra.

Things used to be different: the village of Volochanka was considered prosperous, with trading points, a fur farm, and reindeer herds numbering in the thousands. Unfortunately, there have been no domestic reindeer left in these parts since the late 1970s. Over the years, the culture of reindeer herding has been completely lost. 'There have been no reindeer herders in the Avam tundra for many years. There are no specialists left, even among the elderly, who know how to deal with the animals. We have to re-learn this complex craft, learn from our mistakes', says Terebikhin. 'It is no easy task, but our goal is to revive domestic reindeer herding in these lands'.

Over the past two years, all the children from the village of Volochanka have managed to visit the camp. Denis himself brings them on tours to show them the reindeer, to talk about the life of reindeer herders, to impart a bit of knowledge. Denis believes that an interest in traditional crafts should be fostered from childhood. Several people from the village work at Tucker camp: they take care of the reindeer, help protect the herd from wolves and wolverines, and are involved in construction. But there is always a shortage of hands: there are so many things to do in the short Arctic summer. So, volunteers are always welcome at the camp.

Reviving the ancient traditions of reindeer herding, Denis Terebikhin tries to find modern and innovative approaches in everything he does. On one hand, he does it to simplify the hard work of reindeer herding, and on the other hand, to increase the economic attractiveness of the craft and ensure a decent level of income for those employed in the field.

One of the most recent innovations is blankets and sleeping bags with reindeer fleece insulation. Deer hair has a unique hollow structure that provides very high thermal insulation properties. The product is very light yet incredibly warm, which is very important in Arctic latitudes. These blankets can also be used by campers, hunters and camp workers.

'It's a true marvel of engineering', comments Denis. 'It took more than a year to develop the technology that would allow the use of reindeer wool fleece as an insulating layer. We tried a lot of different options, but the lint got lumpy or started to come out through the covering material.' The novice reindeer herder does not reveal all the secrets, but even a simple description is impressive: first, the fleece undergoes a special dry-cleaning treatment (to eliminate the specific smell of wet wool). It is then dried and laid in several layers interspersed with a thin layer of special material. This layered structure allows the pile to be distributed evenly over the entire blanket area and prevents the insulation from rolling away.

Another promising trend is the use of qiviut, the underfur of musk oxen, as insulation. This material, according to Denis Terebikhin, is vastly superior to deer fleece in terms of its thermal insulation qualities. On the foreign market, 10 grams of musk ox wool costs around $15, a price that speaks for itself. Several young musk oxen were brought to the camp specifically for this purpose. This season, the owner of the campsite plans to start collecting qiviut and creating new samples of Arctic clothing.

Another business interest is the development of the camp's tourism potential. Travellers enjoy coming to Volochanka to watch domestic reindeer and see real musk oxen up close. In addition to outdoor walks, there are small guest houses, fishing on a neighbouring lake, quad biking in the tundra and the chance to enjoy culinary masterpieces made from venison and local fish.