A cull of a quarter of a million reindeer by Christmas has been proposed in northern Siberia in a bid to reduce the risk of an anthrax outbreak.
There are thought to be more than 700,000 animals in the Yamalo-Nenets region, in the arctic zone of the West Siberian plain – the largest herd in the world.
About 300,000 of those are on the Yamal peninsula, prompting concerns of overgrazing and dense herds that could facilitate the spread of disease, the Siberian Times reported.
Dmitry Kobylkin, the governor of Yamalo-Nenets, has called for a proposal for how to reduce the population by 250,000 animals to be finalised by the end of September.
Culls are traditionally held in November and December, but the number of animals to be killed this year is expected to be significantly increased, following outbreaks of anthrax in recent months.
The so-called “zombie” disease is thought to have been resurrected when unusually warm temperatures thawed the carcass of a reindeer that died from anthrax several decades ago, releasing the bacteria.
A state of emergency was imposed in July. A 12-year-old boy from the Yamalo-Nenets region later died after consuming the venison of an infected reindeer.
Some 2,350 reindeer also perished in the outbreaks, reported the Siberian Times, as well as at least four dogs.
Officials are now calling for the reindeer population to be reduced, warning that infection can spread rapidly through large herds.
Nikolai Vlasov, the deputy head of Russia’s federal veterinary and phytosanitary surveillance service, told the Siberian Times the more dense an animal population is, the greater the risk of disease transfer.
“Density of livestock, especially in the tundra areas that are very fragile, should be regulated. … It is impossible to breed reindeers without limits.”