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Thursday, December 18, 1997 Published at 12:48 GMT



World

Rudolph off the menu
image: [ Reindeer is a traditional Christmas dinner in Scandinavia ]
Reindeer is a traditional Christmas dinner in Scandinavia

Scandinavians are worried a fall in reindeer numbers threatens their traditional Christmas.

It's not a question of sledge-power for Santa or a shortage of models for Christmas card pictures.

Instead Norwegians and Swedes have a more direct relationship with their reindeer during the festive season - they eat them.

Now, with not enough to go round, scenes inside Scandinavian butchers threaten to resemble a toy shop after a fresh delivery of Teletubby dolls.

The cause of the shortage is a decline in lichen - moss-like plants which provide reindeers with their staple diet.

Lichen grows in cycles with a shortage every 20 years and is currently at its lowest point.

When it goes into decline, herd owners reduce reindeer numbers to avoid destroying the lichen pastures entirely.

Scandinavia has around 750,000 reindeer. In Russia there are several million more.

In the past, traders made up for the drop in native animals by importing more from Russia.

But a ruling by the European Union banning Russian reindeer on health grounds means the Scandinavians may have to do without this time.

A spokesman for the European Commission, Gerry Keilie, said importing reindeer from Russia could lead to outbreaks of brucellosis and foot-and-mouth disease inside the EU.

This view may not have much support inside Scandinavia. But chances are it has the full backing of reindeer.






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