Believe it or not, reindeer are real—and at the Tromsø Arctic Reindeer Experience, they will nibble on your fingers to prove it. About 12 miles (20 kilometers) north of the Arctic city of Tromsø, Norway, lies a sprawling camp that’s home to about 300 reindeer.
Open to the public since 2016, the reindeer camp occupies a truly surreal environment. Mountains rise up above pale blue fjords on one side, while vast expanses of tundra extend outward on the other. Weather moves quickly across the Arctic environment, and a clear day can soon become a blizzard. When the astronomical conditions are just right, the Northern Lights have been known to dance across the snow, scintillating visitors.
Founded by the indigenous reindeer herder Johan Isak Turi Oskal, the camp—a few small wooden buildings, a tent called a lavvu, and a pen for the reindeer—was initially a way to protect the animals from the perils of climate change. Across the Arctic, from Norway to Canada, wild reindeer populations have been wiped out by warmer temperatures, which make it harder for them to dig for food and an easier target for predators.
Enclosed in Oskal’s camp, the reindeer, despite still being wild animals, nonetheless require a lot of maintenance. Every morning and every evening, Oskal and the other indigenous herders who work there must lasso them one-by-one. Throughout the day, they keep an eye on the herd, scanning the landscape for predators.
Reindeer, visitors will quickly find out, are a rather single-minded bunch. Food is their main priority, and they are not afraid to jostle their companions out of the way to stick their noses into your blue bucket or, alternatively, the camp’s feeding trough. Theirs is a simple existence, but also a threatened one: making the role of the Sámi herders in their preservation and the preservation of the natural ecosystem that sustains them perhaps more important than ever.