Gannon hosts reindeer experts


assistant news editor

Gannon University hosted two environmental speakers who discussed the conservation of reindeer and how students can get involved in this action Monday. The lecture tied into the theme of culture and climate change, which Gannon is focusing on this year.
The speakers included Gregory L. Finstad, Ph.D., an associate professor with the School of Natural Resources and Extension at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Sophia Papageorgiou, DVM, Ph.D., who attended Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine and studied wildlife and international conservation medicine.
Walter Iwanenko, Ph.D., Gannon’s vice president of academic affairs, opened the lecture by saying that the speakers would discuss the effect of climate change in Alaska and how these changes are affecting the reindeer in the area.
Before the discussion began, Finstad said that there is a possible relationship between Gannon and the University of Alaska Fairbanks that is being explored. This relationship would allow for further research to be completed about the consequences of climate change.
He also mentioned the possibility of an internship becoming available for students. Finstad said that the field work is difficult, but makes for an “exceptional experience.”
Cheyenne Barger, a sophomore biology major, said that she believed this lecture was necessary to influence students to recognize a problem and make a change.
“I thought that this was an important event to be held at Gannon because of the university’s current focus on the effects of climate change all over the world, and how we can try to help combat climate change right here in Erie,” Barger said.
Finstad began by saying that reindeer are a prime source for the Alaskan people. He said that people have depended on the animals for as long as they have been living in the North.
Finstad also said that reindeer were made in order for humans to use them to meet their own needs. The Alaskan people use every piece of the reindeer for meat, fur and even as a method of transportation. This is why Finstad said these animals – and the conservation of them – are so important.
He went on to say that reindeer make research possible in areas such as climate, culture and education, and that this research is important because of the major effect it has on humans.
“People’s lives depend on this,” he said.
Finstad runs the Reindeer Research Program, where they have set aside land in Western Alaska for reindeer grazing. They have also developed an animal location system that uses collars on reindeer that ultimately benefits herders.
Papageorgiou discussed work that she had completed in Mongolia that led to her concerns surrounding climate change. She said that during her time studying reindeer in Mongolia, she noticed that the animals were contracting diseases that should not have been possible given their environment. These diseases were only possible due to the changing climate.
She said that the effects of the climate on the reindeer went on to affect the people who depend on these animals in order to survive. The lack of healthy reindeer would result in the lack of milk, meat and fiber.
Barger said that Papageorgiou’s experiences stuck with her after the lecture.
“The most interesting part of the lecture was when Dr. Papageorgiou talked about her experiences researching the reindeer in Mongolia, and saw that climate change affects everyone, even those who do nothing to contribute to it,” Barger said.
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