More than a hundred reindeer were killed in a single four-day period by freight trains rolling through Norway, prompting an outcry for the national railway to do more to protect animals.
In all, 110 reindeer were killed when eight freight trains plowed into herds on the tracks last week, Norway’s national railway company said. In the most serious accident, 65 reindeer were killed Saturday when they were hit by a freight train destined for the northern town of Bodo.
“It was a bloodbath,” a reindeer herder, Torstein Appfjell, 59, said in a phone interview. “I have been a herder all my life, since boyhood, and I have never ever seen anything like the scene on Saturday night.”
Appfjell said he and three other herders were notified of the accident by the railway company, Bane NOR, and arrived at the scene to find dead or dying reindeer lying across 200 to 300 yards of the railway tracks.
“Some of them had been torn up by the crash, but still they were alive hours later,” Appfjell recalled. “I saw one with a broken back, trying to rise, although it was impossible.”
Appfjell said he had shot about 15 reindeer that had no chance of survival, to put them out of their pain. Afterward, he said, he had to drink whiskey to calm his nerves.
“It hurts, because we know each and every one of our animals,” he said. “When you herd, you see things like this often and you put your feelings aside. But this particular scene will be burned into the retina of my eyes forever. Sixty-five animals in one crash — it’s a catastrophe.”
Bane NOR, the railway company, confirmed that 110 reindeer had been killed in eight accidents from Wednesday through Saturday. Thor Braekkan, a manager for the northern branch of the railway, said there were three major collisions: one Wednesday that killed 26 reindeer, one Friday that killed 15 and the one Saturday that killed 65.
“We are now investigating carefully the circumstances of the warning chain, from herder to Bane NOR and then to the driver,” he said.
Such collisions are not uncommon. Since 2010, 200 to 600 reindeer have been in train-related accidents each year, the railway estimates. Last year, 2,016 animals — elk, deer, reindeer, sheep and others — were killed.
But the concentration of deaths in such a short space of time has made headlines in Norway and elsewhere in Scandinavia.
“The accident on Saturday is the largest I can recall,” Braekkan said. “I am not surprised it has gotten attention. It is a tragic event.”
Train crews are instructed to slow down in areas where migrating herds are present, and the railway was trying to find out if the motorman of the train Saturday knew about the herd in the area.
After a spate of similar deadly collisions in 2010, Bane NOR erected fences in several areas of northern Norway, but Appfjell said that additional fencing was needed.
Silje Karine Muotka, a member of the Sami Parliament of Norway, which represents the interests of an indigenous people who are sometimes known as Lapps or Laplanders, said the community had repeatedly called on the government to erect more fences.
“The situation is unacceptable,” she told the newspaper VG.
Live Kleveland, a lawyer and spokeswoman for the Norwegian Animal Protection Alliance, an advocacy group, said it was “very critical” that the government take new steps to prevent accidents.
“Trains killing deer, elk and other animals has been a gruesome problem in Norway for years,” she said in a phone interview. “It is gruesome, because many animals are not killed instantly, but get bruised and suffer a long time before they are put to death, or die on their own.
“The government needs to address the situation with more fences in some places and mandatory speed reductions in other. We want digital surveillance to be implemented. Modern technology should make it simple to warn the train drivers.”