No, this isn't the beginning of a sick joke. It actually happened. Apparently the reindeer, herded by members of the indigenous Sami people, were making a biannual crossing over a frozen waterway and for some reason, the lead reindeer turned around. It sparked a wave a confusion from the herd. As one official said, "the herd started to run in circles on the ice...Pressure increased so much that the ice broke."
What's more is that despite the near-holy status of reindeer to the Samis, a Norwegian energy company "offered" to use the near 300 reindeer carcasses to produce biofuel... a sensible, environmentally-friendly and responsible solution to the modern mind, but to the Sami mind, it is cold, heartless, and disrespectful.
Not sure why I was fascinated by this article today. Maybe b/c reindeer (the real ones, not the flying ones) seem like pretty amazing creatures. Maybe b/c it highlights the tensions between modern and pre-modern sensibilites, and challenges us to consider what the ethical response is in this situation...
Actually, risking insensitivity to the situation, I think I'm fascinated with herd behavior... and the different ways of looking at the same story....
Some might read this story and think, "Wow! If only the lead reindeer did not get mixed up, then all the others would not have become so confused, and the ice never would have broke." From a simplistic perspective, the lead reindeer is the easy one to blame.
Or, you can perhaps wonder what spooked the lead reindeer in the first place... what was it that made her/him turn around? What fear was provoked? Fear of the unknown? Hearing a family member call for help in the back and trying to respond? Or, maybe the lead reindeer's actions were misinterpreted by the rest of the herd... He just needed to scratch his leg, and everyone else thought he was signaling the end of the world.
Maybe the lead reindeer did get spooked.... then in that case, why didn't the reindeer continue to trust the herders that were leading them? They had led them through treacherous ground safely thus far....
Then, the thought of how quickly a little confusion became utter chaos is also fascinating... how one's actions (or their misinterpretations of them) ripples through the crowd until it becomes a massive wave, uncontrollable and unstoppable... and eventually leads to profound loss.
And of course, then there are the fuel producers...responsible that they "may" be, yet also appear poised to jump in and profit from the tragedy... It's almost as if they were lying in waiting to profit from the herd's self-destruction.
I guess it might be strange to gather all of this from just a simple article about drowning reindeer. Then again, perhaps the behavior of reindeer, and the people around them, aren't just restricted to their little corner of the animal kingdom.