Rabies threatens Svalbard reindeer

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Authorities on Norway’s Arctic island group of Svalbard have burned the carcass of a local reindeer suspected of being infected with rabies. The reindeer’s hind legs had become lame, an indication of the rabies virus.

Svalbard has its own special breed of reindeer that authorities want to protect along with other wildlife on the Arctic archipelago. PHOTO: NTNU

The burned carcass has sparked debate on Svalbard, for being what some call a “grotesque” response, but veterinarians and local authorities defend the practice.

“This is normal routine, and something the local sheriff’s office has done for years when there’s any suspicion of rabies,” said Paul Lutnæs, a wildlife manager in the office of Svalbard’s sheriff (Sysselmannen). “Those familiar with rabies and the infection potential understand that this is completely necessary, to elimate the risk of infection.”

State broadcaster NRK reported that the rabies virus tolerates freezing, making a cadaver on Svalbard potentially infectious for months and even years.

Incidents of rabies have been found in recent years among both Svalbard’s native reindeer and Arctic foxes on Svalbard. The authorities are therefore extra careful and are urging residents and visitors alike to be observant and report any sightings of unusual animal behaviour.

“We don’t think we’re facing a rabies outbreak, but we want to be especially alert for animals with suspicious behaviour,” Lutnæs told NRK. “We’re also in close contact with Mattilsynet (Norway’s animal and food safety agency) and the state veterinary institute.”

newsinenglish.no staff