Nenets live mainly in the tundra, forest tundra and Northern taiga belt of the European and Western Siberian part of the Russian Federation, from the Kanin Peninsula in the west, along the banks of the White Sea to the Gydansk-Peninsula of the Yenisey delta. They form the largest indigenous group of the Russian North and are one of the world’s great reindeer herding peoples who have come to personify large scale tundra reindeer husbandry.
Administratively, their territory is divided between the Nenets Autonomous Okrug of the Arkhangelsk Oblast and the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug. Combined, this covers a vast territory of about 1 million square kilometres. The bulk of Nenets reindeer husbandry is situated on the Yamal Peninsula which is the world’s largest area of reindeer husbandry.
Nenets herders and their families practice nomadic herding and migrating over long distances (up to 1000km annually) between summer and winter pastures, with several migratory routes crossing the Ob River. The Nenets number around 41,000 of which about 13500 are involved with reindeer husbandry. The number of reindeer has long been the highest in Russia, currently standing between 600 – 800,000.
Herders in this region maintain close connections to their reindeer on a year round basis. Reindeer are used for meat production, traditional handicraft production and transportation. Reindeer are central to the social, cultural, spiritual and economic life of the Nenets people. Their large herds comprise of both collectively and privately owned animals but are administered by enterprises that date back to Soviet times, though family based units are central to the internal organization of the livelihood.
Unlike most other regions of reindeer husbandry in Russia, the number of people choosing reindeer husbandry as a livelihood is actually increasing, speaking to the vibrancy of the livelihood in the region. Private reindeer ownership within the collective herds has been increasing over the last decade.