Standort: / Meldung: "Johnny's Journeys: The trail of the elusive pigdeer"

Johnny Bliss

Disorderly artist, journalist, and late night moderator, with a fetish for microphone-based hooliganism.

1. 4. 2016 - 06:15

Johnny's Journeys: The trail of the elusive pigdeer

I've spent the day with a local fisherman, prowling the arctic tundra of Svalbard in the hopes of catching a sight of the legendary, solitary (and rarely seen) pig reindeer, a species of creature only found in the Svalbard / Spitsbergen region.

Svalbard ("Spitsbergen") is a curious, and interesting place; on one hand, you have fossils strewn everywhere from millions of years ago, back when the archipelago was located near the equator and was a tropical rainforest.

Johnny Bliss, 2016

On the other hand, you have a large living population of polar bears, larger than that of human beings (on the entire archipelago of Svalbard, you have 2,642 humans and approximately 3,000 polar bears).

Polar bear sign

Johnny Bliss, 2014

Polar bear sign

Humans have only been living on Svalbard since they started coal mining in the early 1900s. Nowadays adventure tourism is an increasingly large industry (while mining is arguably on the decline), but that doesn't change the fact that everywhere you find evidence of people on Svalbard, you also find evidence of mining in the past or present.

A retired mine from below

Johnny Bliss, 2014

A retired mine from below

* - and birds, but I'm referring to mammals here

Nowhere is this more evident than in the local wildlife. Svalbard, located far up in the Arctic Circle, has a harsh and unforgiving climate which would kill all but the hardiest animals. Until recently, the local wildlife (above water) consisted of nothing more than the Arctic Fox, the Svalbard reindeer, polar bears and Southern Vole*. Back in the early 20th century, meat chickens and pigs were briefly introduced by certain mining companies for the benefit of their employees, but these never lived (or survived) out in the wild. So it would have remained, if it were not for genetic engineering.

"In the old days", a very informative local fisherman named Jim Johansen told me over drinks at the local pub in Longyearbyen, "both in Barentsburg and in the settlement Pyramiden, the Russians - these are Russian settlements - were more or less self-sufficient, and in both these places, they had hens that laid eggs. They had horses, pigs, and also cows that gave them milk. They even grew their own vegetables and such. [But] at one point, the Russian scientists thought that they needed a more sustainable source of meat, which could be outside all winter. So they actually made a [cross], between the pig and the Svalbard reindeer.

Jim on a boat

Siegi Schulz, 2014

That's Jim, front and center.

"[This was] a pig who could walk outside all year long, because he had a very strong sense of smell, and really strong hooves, so he can smell the food through the ice and snow, and then dig through it. He doesn't have antlers like the reindeer, but you can sense that he has small bulbs on his forehead, so there is something there.

"They actually gave this species the Latin name 'Bacon Polaris'. Even to this day, they are in Barentsburg. Like all gene-made animals, they can be unstable and aggressive, so you should never approach them, actually. Luckily I haven't had a close encounter myself."

Jim Zodiac

Johnny Bliss, 2014

I convinced Jim to take me out onto some fjords near Barentsburg yesterday to find some of these reindeer pigs.

The Svalbardian Reindeer-Pig

Unfortunately, we didn't find any conclusively, but here are some pictures of some Svalbard reindeer.