Mongolia asks for Finnish reindeer semen

Dwindling and in-bred national herd needs replenishing

Visiting Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj has asked Finland for help in revitalising the country’s waning reindeer herding livelihood.
Reindeer have been raised in Mongolia for about 3,000 years, but their numbers have dwindled to just over 1,000 animals.
During a meeting with Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi (Centre), President Elbegdorj asked if Finland could provide Mongolia with Finnish reindeer semen to artificially inseminate Mongolian females, in order to bring more genetic diversity to the largely in-bred national herd.

Kiviniemi had referred Elbegdorj to Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Sirkka-Liisa Anttila (Centre), who says that she had discussed the matter with the Mongolian President. Anttila had promised both reindeer semen and embryos to help diversify the gene pool.
President Elbegdorj also discussed reindeer during a visit on Thursday to the Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute (RKTL) where he was briefed by the institute’s head of research Mauri Nieminen.

“Sending semen is possible but it is not easy”, Nieminen told Helsingin Sanomat. He added that it is usually done only for research purposes.
While it is possible to artificially inseminate reindeer, there are complications involved. “Reindeer are a semi-wild animals”, Nieminen pointed out.
“It is not easy to determine when a reindeer is in heat, an especially when it reaches the climax, which is when the semen should be collected.”

This autumn’s period of heat is already over, which means that new reindeer sperm would not be available until next year. The semen would be frozen for transport.
Nieninen notes that it might actually be easier to deliver live reindeer to Mongolia than reindeer semen. Russia has sent reindeer to Mongolia in past years, and Finnish reindeer have travelled to European countries and to Japan.
Finnish reindeer are considered quite suitable for Mongolia, and should breed well. “There is only one reindeer species in the world”, Nieminen said. There are seven subspecies, one of which is the Finnish forest reindeer, and another is the North American caribou. They can all breed with each other.

Reindeer have been raised in Mongolia for thousands of years. The population is currently so small that inbreeding is a problem. There are many reasons for the decline, but the reindeer herding culture has remained. “People ride them, they give milk, they are used in fishing and hunting.”
Only a third of the Mongolian reindeer population are female, while in Finland females account for 80 per cent of reindeer. “Artificial insemination does not help if there are no female reindeer”, Nieminen points out. “Perhaps we should first go to Mongolia to check out the structure of the population.”

Mongolia is a very poor country and is relatively far away from everything. In addition to reindeer herding, it has plenty of copper and uranium resources, as well as gold and coal.
It is important for Finland that Mongolia should support Finland’s bid to become a rotating member of the UN security Council.
Presidents Elbegdorj and Tarja Halonen agreed that the countries are united by reindeer, the forest industry, and cold winters. Last winter harsh weather conditions destroyed 17 per cent of the approximately 800,000 head of cattle raised by the country’s nomads. (HELSINGIN SANOMAT-Finnish Newspaper)


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