by Franco M. Alo
When I came back from Finland in the Fall of 2014, I thought I had returned with such wealth of information that a such internship or research project could not be overtaken at great stride. This year, upon my return once again from the wonderful joys of Finland’s Subarctic, I must admit I was trumped to have confidence in the year that followed. It is often difficult to embrace the present without fear of a future perhaps less fruitful. With the help of continued funding from the QCBS, my trip to Northern Finland left me in awe and gave me a sense of appreciation for the unknown. I learned an important lesson, and this is that as long as you are open-minded, your days of learning will not cease until the entire RAM in our minds has been consumed (which is quite the feat).
My project this year was finally about to take shape. Of personal satisfaction to me was carrying out an experiment that could potentially help the management of reindeer herds in Finland and Caribou back in Canada. By investigating how operational sex ratio (the ratio of sexually mature males to sexually receptive females) can ultimately affect the strength of competition in reindeer, we can determine if these pressures lead to higher chances of reproductive success amongst individuals of a particular treatment. Being a proud Canadian, my goal has always been to use this data and extrapolate it allowing me to suggest conservation-type management practices for Caribou. Caribou populations are dwindling fast with very little research to support successful recovery programs. The results have been computed but I must further explore different approaches before sharing with the scientific community; more so a reason to come see me at a future conference near you!
Building on previous experience from the last field season, I was now able to track reindeer with ease using radio-telemetry. This year, I had the honor to assist in herding groups of reindeer by Finland’s finest Sami (indigenous reindeer herding people). That day in itself was one I often reflected on throughout the entire field season as I felt such happiness being able to partake in a unique experience.
Sami reindeer herders do what they do best with a smile
The joy on everyone’s faces as they worked effectively and cooperatively was reminiscent of simpler times where men and women trusted their natural instincts more. In the following days, we weighed the reindeer and collared the males for my experiment. That in itself was an experience, as a close encounter with a reindeers antler near the end of the field season left me very appreciative of life and a new found respect for my study species. When an animal is cornered it fights back, as it should, somehow this simple lecture from nature was forgotten as I focused on ‘my’ data and ‘my’ experiment. The whole experience at Kutuharju was very humbling as a person and researcher. Of course as per the previous year, I was thrilled to share my sometimes farfetched ideas on reindeer biology with Dr. Øystein Holand from Norway. The skies of Northern Finland danced for us for days on end like I had never seen before.
Spectacular Northern Lights show after 5 days of high activity. This is just one of the many wonderful photographs I had the pleasure of capturing.
For all members of the QCBS, follow those dreams and chase them at any length. Life is what we make of it and as much as I thought I knew that, none became clearer than when a set of antlers was a few inches from my gut. The male may have only been 70 – 80kg, but I myself weigh 60kg.