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Oslo: how castration can help climate change

Castration might sound like a controversial solution to the human population growth that is boosting carbon emissions, but the operation in question is for reindeer, not people. Rising winter temperatures can cause freeze-thaw cycles that create thick ice layers on top of snow; this makes it harder for reindeer to reach the lichen that they feed on beneath.

So how can castration help? Unlike normal males, castrated males retain their antlers during the winter, enabling them to dig grazing holes through snow and ice, explained Eli Risten Nergård of Sami University College and the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science at the IPY Oslo Science Conference. Although females also retain their antlers they may not be strong enough to dig effectively; both females and young reindeer can exploit the holes made by castrated males.

But animals castrated using the modern tong method have weaker antlers and less muscle bulk than those treated with the traditional biting technique used by the Sami people of Northern Scandinavia. Nergård has found that the tong technique cuts the reindeers’ testosterone levels to zero whereas the traditional technique, which is no longer permitted under Norwegian animal welfare legislation, leaves the animals with a reduced level of testosterone. So reindeer castrated in the traditional “gaskin” way are likely to be better able to clear ice and snow with their antlers over the winter than other castrated males. Castrated males also have an increased chance of survival over entire males because they don’t lose weight and body condition during the rutting season.

Nergård, who has been working as part of the EALAT study, says preliminary results indicate that it may also be possible to castrate the reindeer using a vaccine.

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One comment to Oslo: how castration can help climate change

  1. 4TimesAYear

    I should think a reduced reindeer population would lower both methane and CO2 emissions….

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