n a snowy winter morning, Lotti Papastavrou Brooks, 23, can normally be found somewhere in the Cairngorm mountains looking for reindeer. She’ll probably have a 15kg sack of food with her – filled with hay, garlic, barley sugar beet and dark grain – as she ventures uphill through the snow searching for the stately, antlered animals. It could be an hour or so before she finds them roaming somewhere on the mountainside, but she’s confident the prospect of breakfast will entice them in when she does.
Brooks doesn’t have a typical graduate job. She is one of the UK’s only free-range reindeer herders, at the Reindeer Centre, near Aviemore in the Highlands of Scotland.
Reindeer are believed to be native to Scotland, but became extinct around 800 years ago due to over-hunting. In 1952, the site in the Cairngorms became the first place in the UK in which the animals were reintroduced, after Swedish herder Mikel Utsi visited with his wife and thought the area would make a good home for them. Since then, the herd has grown from eight to 150 and is looked after by a team of 10 full-time herders.
Brooks, who is originally from Bristol, first volunteered at the centre during the school holidays aged 14, and started working full time with the animals around a year ago. “I had visited as a child and knew the family who run the reindeer centre fairly well,” she explains. “I had always loved the reindeer and the area, and was keen to get more involved.”
The job changes with the seasons. In winter, she heads out early in the morning, trekking into the blustery mountains to find the herd. “It’s not unusual for it to be -15 degrees and quite deep snow,” she says. It can take a while; the reindeer are free to roam around 10,000 acres.
Once the animals have been found, she moves them closer to the centre, so they can take tours out later in the day. “They’re really greedy, so they’ll follow us whenever we have a bag of food,” Brooks laughs.
The centre is run as a visitor attraction – none of the animals are killed for meat, culled or sold on. People come from all over the world to see the reindeer throughout the year, including enthusiasts from Sweden or Norway, as well as people who have never seen deer before. The animals are gentle and good natured with everyone, Brooks says. “You can easily walk among them, even though they have big antlers on their heads. You’d be surprised how relaxing it is.”
Spring is the calving season so the herders bring
Below: herder Lotti Papastavrou Brooks during summer in the Cairngorms pregnant females into a 1,200-acre hill enclosure to keep an eye on them. Each year, Brooks and her colleagues name the newborn reindeer after a new theme. Parmesan, Camembert, and Mozzarella were born one year, while in 2019, calves were named after European cities. The herd now includes Athens, Oslo, Florence and Bordeaux.
The team of herders can work out who’s who straight away, Brooks says. The animals all have very different faces – some have white noses, others are
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