Because of a record hot summer in the Arctic, permafrost melted for the first time in decades this year, releasing infectious spores of the frozen virus from a 75-year-old reindeer carcass that had been buried in the ice. As a result, a boy, four dogs and 2,350 reindeer died of anthrax, which can be transmitted through breathing in the spores, handling animal caracasses or eating undercooked meat infected with the disease.
In addition to cutting down on overgrazing, the Russian government believes the cull would decrease the potential for anthrax to spread if it is released from the permafrost again.
"Reindeer livestock numbers in Yamal are too high," Nikolai Vlasov, deputy head of Russia's Federal Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance Service, told the Siberian Times. "'The more dense the animal population is, the worse the disease transfer medium (and) the more often animals get sick."
Nomadic people on the Yamal peninsula, called Nenets, have raised reindeer herds for centuries. Every year, these indigenous people kill some reindeer for food and clothing - but Russia's plan would incentivize them to slaughter many more.