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They live in minus 50iC, drink warm blood, feast on raw meat and rely on deer for all food, shelter and clothing the Reindeer People.


IT'S that time of year when Rudolph and the rest of his reindeer chums come into their own.

Yet for one group of people a reindeer is not just for Christmas - but crucial to every day of their life. They are so important to the Nenets living in the icy wastes of Siberia that they are even called the Reindeer People.

And that's hardly surprising... as reindeers pull their sledges and provide them with their clothes and food and even the roofs of their tepeestyle homes, which protect them against temperatures as low as minus 50 degrees Centigrade and icy winds that can reach a frightening Force 10.

For Nenets, a typical breakfast consists of reindeer meat served with bread and fish. For lunch there's more reindeer meat, tea and jam. But forget well-done steak. The reindeer is eaten raw - and the animals' warm blood drunk straight from the carcass. It may sound vampire-like, but the tradition provides life-saving vitamins and nutrients. And to the Nenets drinking reindeer blood is no more odd than downing a pint of milk.

Tanya, 28, a mother-of-three, explains how the reindeer are killed: "My husband will split the animal in two, starting with the skull. We eat half and leave the rest as an offering to the gods." The Nenets fiercely protect their nomadic way of life. Stretching out a furgloved hand towards his animals, Sergei Serotetta, 48, says: "For us, deer are wealth. Without them, we could not survive." His brother, university-educated Sasha, 42, has lived away from the harsh conditions in a town, but returned to the ancient way of life. He says: "Life in the city is like a punishment. Here we have freedom. Here we have everything we need."

Sergei's daughter, Valia, 25, is also happy to be back in the wild. "People in the town were horrible. I prefer to look out of my home and see my reindeer, rather than just sit around watching TV," she says. "And I want my son to know the tundra life, our language and what a reindeer is." The lives of the Nenet people are so bound-up with the reindeer they follow them as they make an annual 500-mile migration to give birth. The journey is broken at Yar-Sale in Siberia where the children have to go to boarding school until they are 15.

But back home the youngsters like nothing more than playing with the reindeer. Almost as soon as they could walk, they will have practised throwing lassos called tyanzins which they use... to catch more reindeer.

Naturally, the lassos are made from reindeer sinews. But it's not all bad news for the animals. They are carefully looked after - and some are even allowed to wander inside the tepee-type houses to settle by the fire.

At least Santa leaves Rudolph and Co. outside when he comes to call...

How Rudolph & his pals survive

JUST like Rudolph, reindeers really do have special noses - they warm the cold air before it enters their lungs.

THEY have two layers of fur, a dense woolly undercoat and longer-haired overcoat.

REINDEER are excellent swimmers - their fur has air hollows which act like lifejackets.

THEIR antlers feel like velvet to the touch.

AN adult reindeer can run at up to 16mph.

TO keep a grip on the winter ice the reindeer hoof changes to expose its rim - which acts just like a crampon.


Starters orders... Nenet women get ready for a reindeer celebration' Where school is cool... pupils have to board until they are 15 years old' Run Run Rudolph... a herdsman races his reindeer during town festivities' Wrap up warm... a Nenet gran ties her grandson's caribou-skin boots Pictures: GETTY IMAGES Main picture: ZOLTAN TOROK
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Dec 24, 2006
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