Reindeer Herding in South Greenland

In the just 50 years since the introduction of reindeer herding to Greenland, the tradition is now thriving today with close to a thousand reindeer which are tended by a small handful of dedicated Greenlandic herders. 
Just like their agricultural brethren that are more widespread in the region, namely the Inuit sheep farmers, the two reindeer herding families in South Greenland collectively lead a hard-working life all year round, together with their closest network.

They ensure the herds are grazing in the right areas at the right seasons.
They gather all the animals once a year in late autumn to count them and check their ages and health.
The non-productive animals get culled for their delicious organic meat and sent to Neqi in Narsaq for preparation to public sale.
They build and repair fences and pens that aid them in their annual gather. 

This reindeer herding lifestyle is very unique in Greenland, and it is one that connects Greenlandic Inuit to other Inuit and indigenous people in the Arctic. Therefore, we must respect their work, their herd, their buildings and their agricultural lands in every way possible.
Photos by: Sarah E. Woodall


All herded reindeer in South Greenland are found on one island and one island ONLY, albeit a large island over 35 km long and 7 km wide. 
This island is called Tuttutooq, which means essentially "Reindeer Island". Isn't that fitting?

Tuttutooq lies in the northern part of South Greenland, just west of the town of Narsaq between the two large waterways Ikersuaq and Narlunaq.

Tuttutooq has a long history of human inhabitation on the island, dating back to Neo-Inuit times in the 1300's. At the island's northeast end closest to Narsaq there is an extensive and highly visible grouping of old Paleo-Inuit settlement ruins in a small bay called Qassiisaa. Here there are old dwellings which indicate inhabitation by Paleo-Inuit peoples over several centuries. 

Uninhabited, though not unused

Despite the rich and long history of our ancestors' life on Tuttutooq, the island is uninhabited today.
However, this does not mean it is unused!

Our reindeer herders have their entire herd on this island. Despite the island appears to be one vast open land, the herders do actually have municipal permits to use the land for the cultivation of their herd.

They have equipment and fences in various places on the island that aid them in moving their herd from one location to the next, as the seasons change.

They also have a private cabin and an extensive network of gathering pens at a location called Itilleq, with entry from the eastern side of the island.

do not disturb

It is of the utmost importance that anyone entering the island endeavours to Leave No Trace of their presence. This includes taking any and all trash when leaving again, and never throwing trash or debris in the nature.

Under no circumstances should anyone touch, alter or otherwise disturb the reindeer farmers' property, including fences, gates, machinery or the like.
In fact, the reindeer herding families would like to make a request that people make a respectful decision to avoid entering the island entirely. 

Two families

Today the two families of reindeer herders are led by the patriarchs Stefan Magnusson and Søren Janussen.

Both Stefan's now-adult children (Manitsiaq John Nielsen and Freyja Stefánsdóttir) and Søren's now-adult children (Hans and David Janussen) have been involved in every step of the reindeer herding lifestyle since before they could walk. Now, in both families, there is just about to be a generation shift so that the children will take over the family businesses.

The forefather of reindeer herding

The present-day reindeer herders have a lot to thank their predecessor for.
Reindeer herding in Greenland all started with one Inuit man named Ole "Tuttu" Kristiansen.
In the early 1970's, after travelling to Samí lands to learn the art of reindeer herding, Ole Tuttu brought a herd of Norwegian reindeer to South Greenland.
He was just 26 years old.

Ole Tuttu built Greenland's first reindeer farm at Kangerluatsiaat, near Narsaq, and from there he ran his reindeer herding business until Stefan Magnusson, Icelandic, later took over and established Isortoq Reindeer Station as their own.
Later in the early 1990's, another Inuit man, Søren Janussen, acquired a few dozen heads of reindeer from Stefan in order to establish his own reindeer herd.
In memory of
Ole Tuttu Kristiansen

27/3-1947 to 3/4-2020

Local Operators ready to welcome you

Wild Greenland