Vandalism may have killed calf, destroys research at Experimental Farm

Aug 30, 2012

Fairbanks, AK - Vandals broke into the reindeer pens and destroyed the greenhouses on the southwestern corner of campus at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks late last Wednesday night.  The incident may have contributed to the death of on reindeer calf.  Another calf was injured and an entire growing season’s worth of data is a loss for one researcher.

In recent years, the Reindeer Research Program has installed security cameras to monitor the safety of the 90 animals that are part of the program.  Director Greg Finstad says it was just a coincidence that  the cameras were not working when someone broke into a pen housing a dozen reindeer calves, pulled up a steel t-post and threw it at the animals.

“We had one calf injured and possible lost another and we think it was related to stress related to that vandalism event.”

This isn’t the first incidence of vandalism to the reindeer pens.  10 years ago, someone cut through the fence in an attempt to free the herd.

“When people cut the fence to let the animals out, it’s a crime but they think they are doing it for the benefit of the animal. This was totally different," he says.  "This was malicious, the intent was to injure or kill a calf.  They’re very gentle, docile animals and just the idea that someone wants to do them harm is the disturbing part.”

Horticulture Professor Miriam Kaarlson is also reeling from the event.  The offending party shredded the plastic that covers a series of greenhouses where she does her research.   They also pulled up tomato and sunflower plants critical to her work.

“We use those in studies where we are looking at different light intensities and light qualities," she explains. "They were flowering and this is basically the critical time that I am interested in seeing how long it took to produce the flower and how many leaves the produce before they flower.  So they were just snapped off and pulled out so I lost that data as well.”

Kaarlson estimates the greenhouses are worth about $2000, but she can’t put a value on the data she’s lost.  Greg Finstad says the loss of data is extremely serious in research, but none of the reindeer affected were part of any current studies.

The University Police Department has increased their patrols in the area.  Police Chief Sean McGee says he’s looking into limiting what he calls “unfettered access” at the farm. 

Fairbanks Crime Stoppers, a non-profit organization is offering a one thousand dollar reward for information in the case