How Messi recovered from last year’s eagle attack

Posted by on Apr 2, 2015 in Animals & wildlife
How Messi recovered from last year’s eagle attack

The Sami culture has a strong connection with tradition, long-established reindeer herding being at the heart of it. In Sweden alone there are some 260.000 reindeer and young Messi is one of them. In Spring 2014 the newborn calf was attacked by an eagle and although severely injured, it survived. The animal was brought down from the still snow-covered mountains, the first part of its voyage into safety on the shoulders of reindeer herder Peter Andersson, the second part was a slow snow scooter ride.

What followed was a visit to the veterinarian to take care of the injuries, caused by the eagles’ claws, prescriptions for antibiotics and at the end of a long day, a warm place to sleep and to recover. The calf without a name soon got one, after a local contest: Miessie, the Sami name for reindeer calf. Within a day it had become Messi, thus instantly enjoying a celebrity status. All were crossing their fingers, hoping the events would take a turn for the better….



Messi, on its feet again, with the dogs

Messi, on its feet again, with the dogs


Reindeer attacked by natural predators

And they did. Growing up among the dogs of the family, Messi soon adopted some of the peculiar habits of his predecessors: the two reindeer Lovis and Vitjie. Lovis (the Sami name for ‘calf without a mother’) was found short after its birth, the mother being killed by a wolf. What had happened to Vitjie (vit=white, the added ‘tjie’ means ‘small, little’) the story does not tell, the calf was found lying all alone, abandoned by the herd. Both of them orphans now, they were taken downhill to nurse them. Living with the Andersson family brought them back to life and health, they developed a few peculiar manners though. For instance, while walking up to the house you would be welcomed by dogs as well as reindeer, running up to you. The reindeer, imitating the dogs, would become quite frustrated after that, when they were being denied entrance to the house, contrary to what the dogs were allowed to. And as the months went by and the calves grew into maturity, they still acted like dogs, jumped at you with their full weight, pushing you to the side. And lying at your feet, curled up, seeking the company of humans.


About 25 percent of the newborn reindeer won’t survive

Reindeers being attacked by wild animals is not something rare or unusual. Natural predators such as the bear, wolf and eagle but also the lynx and the wolverine are a serious threat to the herd, most of their prey selected from the group of yearly newborns. It is known that some 25 percent of the calves are killed by wild animals. But also mature reindeer fall victim, directly by being attacked, indirectly by being chased and scared, a hunt that may cause deadly traffic accidents. It are not just figures and facts. For Peter and Helena Andersson it is their daily life. With their family business Renbiten, located in the idyllic village Storsätern (Dalarna), they are part of the Idre Samebyn. In Sweden this is the most southern geographical area where reindeer are herded.

A Sameby (Sami village) is the economic and administrative union with the intention of keeping reindeer. Sámi reindeer herding in Sweden is divided into 51 Sameby. Governed by the ‘Reindeer Husbandry Act’, the members of a specific Sameby have obtained rights to herding, hunting and fishing in a particular area. This includes the building and setting up of facilities, needed for their reindeer.

In this natural environment man and wildlife share a territory. Most of the times it is a living together in close harmony, each has its share. Nevertheless, there are conflicts inherent to almost every relation where opposing interests have to meet and compromise. By and large it is quite a contrast with the urban life styles. Needless to say we are attracted to this life where nature still reigns, residing the greater part of the year at 1800 km distance in a flat country that is associated with cows.



Throughout the years we have been succesful in finding beautiful, great places. They are engraved on the memory and the mind lets you find creative ways to return, a wish appreciably strengthened for the reason that you made friends over there. It all started years ago when Helena and I first met and instantly liked each other. This affinity was brought into our respective families, more cross-over friendships developed between husbands and children. With one foot in modern society, the other firmly rooted in old traditional ways, Peter and Helena did introduce us to some of the intricate details of the reindeer herding, telling the stories of their ancestors and offering fascinating insights into the Sami culture. Although we try to get together as often as possible, our plans continue to run behind schedule. Also, but not mainly, due to the fact that last year Helena broke a leg and I broke an arm. Temporary set backs caused by silly accidents.


Migrating reindeer: walking the herd to other grounds

Migrating reindeer: walking the herd to other grounds


Messi, meanwhile, is running around and waiting for Spring to arrive in Dalarna. He will be trained to be one of the lead reindeer, like Lovis and Vitjie. In due time this once so badly injured calf will walk with Peter, heading the herd to other grounds.





  • Renbiten, also a local shop, sells products from the traditional Sami cuisine, specialty: reindeer meat, as well as genuine Sami handicrafts. Directions how to get there: from Idre, follow the road to Grövelsjön (Riksveg 70).
  • Nearby Idre is one of the most beautiful and popular ski resorts in Sweden, Idre Fjäll.
  • Find also from here: National Park Fulufjället, 45 minutes from Idre. Sweden’s highest waterfall as well as the oldest spruce tree in the world are to be found here (although the exact location of this tree, ‘Old Tjikko’  is carefully kept out of the brochures!)



Images: courtesy Helena Andersson


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