On patrol with the Reindeer Police

Story highlights

  • The Reindeer Police is a unit in Norway's northernmost counties
  • Photographer Gianmarco Maraviglia spent time with the group this year

(CNN)Photographer Gianmarco Maraviglia describes Norway's northernmost counties of Finnmark and Troms as a white expanse in every direction -- vast and open like the Sahara, but covered in snow.

Maraviglia traveled the region with the Reindeer Police, a branch of the Norwegian Police Service that oversees the reindeer herding of the indigenous Sami people and provides environmental protection to the area. The unit, founded in 1949, is made up of 15 officers for an area of about 21,600 square miles.
"The duty of this police corps is mainly to care for the environment and nature," Maraviglia said. "It's not only managing the reindeer herders; the main duty nowadays is protecting nature -- like controlling illegal fishing, illegal hunting, all topics related to protecting nature."
The Reindeer Police have to know the culture, the languages and the traditions of the Sami people, Maraviglia said. Because the Sami have such a long history with the land, "they have some special permissions, like they don't have to have a license to fish in the frozen lakes, they don't have to wear helmets on snowmobiles."
Photographer Gianmarco Maraviglia
These photographs were made in collaboration with Vanity Fair Italy and Marie Claire France. The Reindeer Police came to Maraviglia's attention after he read "Forty Days Without Shadow," a thriller by French author Olivier Truc. Maraviglia pitched the idea of telling the true story of the region to Vanity Fair, and he and a writer visited in April, when the reindeer migrate from the mountains to the seaside.
The area is not open to tourists, and Maraviglia was required to stay with a team of Reindeer Police during his visit. Police patrol the area via snowmobile. Maraviglia rode a separate snowmobile with a guide, and they followed the police as they tracked reindeer and met with Sami herders.
The Reindeer Police teams are made up of two officers who set out on weeklong missions. Maraviglia said that because the area is so large, the team can go a day or two without seeing another person.
Tracking reindeer can be difficult in such a large area. "Looking for the reindeer, the first thing is to look for the tents of the (Sami) harvesters," Maraviglia explained. Finding the fires and tents of the herders is a clue that the animals are in the area. The police also use binoculars from hilltops to try to find the reindeer in migration.
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The reindeer currently face a food shortage. Maravaglia said that because of climate change, the region gets more rain and less snow, forming icy sheets that make it difficult for the reindeer to get to food.
One of the solutions to the shortage is using boats to transport the reindeer to nearby islands that have more food. He photographed the process of herding the reindeer together, putting a cage around them and using the cage as a way to guide the reindeer onto the boats.
Maraviglia's photojournalism background mostly consists of stories with people as the subject, taking closer, more intimate shots. This story brought him a new experience in wide, landscape shooting. "Here the subject, for the first time in my life, was nature," he said.
The photographer used the same approaches as with human stories.
"I think it worked because I was really touched by the landscape in the same way I'm usually touched by the story of the person," he said.