HELSINKI – Finnish reindeer herders in the Arctic have painted Rudolph’s antlers in fluorescent colours, hung reflectors around their necks and even used movable traffic signs, but none of the efforts have helped reduce the annual 4,000 reindeer road deaths.
Now they have decided on a new tactic: an interactive reindeer warning app where drivers can tap their mobile phone screens to register any reindeer they see and get warnings if they are approaching an area where reindeers have been spotted. They’re hoping to save at least some of the 300,000 reindeer that wonder freely in the wilds of Lapland, sometimes described as the last wilderness in Europe.
In a pilot project, drivers of heavy transport vehicles are being given 1,000 free handsets, which have been deactivated for any other use than the reindeer warning system. If it proves successful, the app will be available for download on smartphones later this year.
Anne Ollila, director of the Finnish Reindeer Herders’ Association, said Wednesday the other methods simply didn’t work.
“Drivers often mistook reindeer with reflectors for people in the dark, thinking they wouldn’t run into the middle of the road when they saw car headlights approaching,” she told The Associated Press. “And the deer would tear the reflectors off.”
Reindeer traffic warning signs were pinched by tourists for souvenirs, and reindeer would scrape off the fluorescent paint from their antlers. “Somehow the reindeer know they had paint on their antlers — maybe their friends laughed at them,” Ollila said.
Reindeer husbandry provides work for some 10,000 people in the region.