|2004-10-26 - Rat hunting
Our apartment in Zyryanka, -25°C but sunny and no wind
Written by Johan Ivarsson
When I looked at the thermometer this morning it showed -25°C, the lowest temperature so far during the trip. Then I understood the advice that our friend Sergei gave us yesterday, ´´Make sure to dress warm, because tomorrow it will be cold since you´ll head out hunting rats with the yakut!´´
Mikael and me, donned with two thick pairs of warm longjohns, set off midday, sitting on a shaky sledge behind one of the typical Russian snowmobiles on our way hunting Bison rats with the yakut Anatolij and his father. They set of in the same manner as every day, with dogs and sledges, to check their traps and, despite the low temperature, today was no exception.
At home, in the safety minded Sweden, it is not many that would travel with a snowmobile when it is colder than -20°C. Swedes reckon it is dangerous and that you will get seriously ill. Here in Zyryanka it is unusual that it is as warm as -20°C, but still people are as healthy as one can! Of course, I could feel the chill and the wind biting my cheeks as we traveled over the ice and my fingers got stiff and almost unusable when I removed my mitts every time we got problems with batteries, but still I couldn´t fathom what danger could be involved in cold travel like this. A lot of things I´ve been taught back home in Sweden, have changed forever during this Expedition. For the better.
Anatolij and his father, who only spoke yakut and no Russian, was wearing traditional Siberian clothing, such as a thick fur hat, a well used handkerchief, a warm thick coat and warm felt boots and his hands were kept warm by mittens sewed from dogfur. His father, 81 years old, but still healthy and strong, was coming behind us riding on a handmade sledge pulled by three enthusiastic dogs that was doing everything they could to pass us. All the way to the small lake were they had sat their traps.
The traps looked almost like a specific type of cage that we use to catch fish with back home in Sweden, with a small opening at the top on one side. This cage, though, they placed in a hole, in the ice, that the bison rats had made themselves. These rat made holes had earlier been discovered and marked by one of the dogs, and once this was done, the holes were covered with mud and snow. A job done after a cage was placed in the hole. It was left like this overnight.
Today the first trap we checked, was full of rats. 15 big ones with big tails and sharp claws. The second one turns out the more normal catch, 5 fat ones. But the total catch satisfied the yakuts. Hunting is important for the Yakut and the money that they get from the fur trade is a well needed addition to their rather bleak economy.
The Bison rat is not endemic to the Kolyma region. It is only 40 years since it arrived here from North America. Since then it have spread fast and widely and can now be found in huge numbers. Anatolij and his father captures around 4000 rats during one year.
After we placed traps in new holes we headed back home towards their house and ate a warm soup.
This is another experience which have given me new perspective on life and one thing is for sure:
We have a lot to learn from the people around Kolyma. Especially when it comes to cold climates!