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Elk

The majestic moose is the largest animal in the Swedish forest, and in many ways has become a symbol of Sweden. Only bull moose have antlers, which are shed every winter and grow back after a few months.

  • The moose mainly lives in northern coniferous forests (taiga), but can also be found on agricultural land, for example when looking for food. Moose live alone or in small groups, and are active during the daytime. In the winter, they can gather in large herds of up to 30–40 animals around winter grazing sites along the river valleys of Norrland.

    Long muzzle, beard and hump at the withers

    The moose is easily recognised by its large ears, its long muzzle, its beard and its hump at the withers. Its fur varies from dark brown or almost black to light brown or grey. Its legs are always pale greyish-white. Calves have a reddish-brown coat. They are almost completely red at birth, turning increasingly grey as autumn draws on.

  • About the elk
    Scientific name:

    Alces alces

    Order:

    Even-toed ungulates (Artiodactyla)

    Family:

    Family: Deer (Cervidae)

    Weight:

    Male (bull) 450 kg and female (cow) 350 kg

    Height at the withers:

    Up to 2.3 metres

    Sexual maturity:

    2 years

    Breeding season:

    September to October

    Gestation:

    8 months

    Number of young:

    1–3 (usually 1)

    Lifespan:

    Approx. 10 years, but can live up to 20 years

    Eats:

    Plants

    Distribution in Sweden:

    The whole country, except Gotland

  • An adult moose weighs 200–550 kilograms and can be up to 230 cm tall at the withers. Bulls are 20 percent larger than cows on average, and have coarser necks and larger beards. The shape and size of the moose’s horns indicates its strength.

    Ruminants adapted to the changing seasons

    Just like the cow, the moose is a ruminant and feeds on herbs, grass, twigs, bark, buds and brushwood. In the winter, its diet often consists of annual shoots of sallow, aspen, birch, pine and juniper. It is adapted to the changing seasons and adjusts its metabolism in the winter, surviving on fewer nutrients and less fluid. As a result, it loses weight during the winter. This weight loss can be up to 20–25 percent of the moose’s summer weight.

    The moose eats between four and twelve kilos per day, but only 30 to 50 percent of its food is broken down in the intestines. The rest is passed out as dung. The moose’s winter dung is therefore so rich in fibre that it is actually possible to make paper from it.

    Sheds its horns every year

    Moose shed their horns every year, with the growth cycle being controlled by sex hormones and growth hormones. The horns begin to grow in early spring, and as they grow they are protected by velvet skin filled with blood vessels, providing nutrients as they grow. By the end of the summer, the horns have finished growing and the blood supply is withdrawn, causing the velvet skin to dry out and loosen. The bull scrapes his horns against bushes and trees to remove the velvet skin, which may hang from his head in strips for a few days.

    The easiest way to tell the sex of a moose is, of course, to look for antlers – only males have antlers. Additionally, whatever the season, the female moose has light-coloured stripes along the inside of her hind legs.

    Bulls fight for cows

    During the mating season in late September or early October, fierce battles can break out between the bulls over a cow moose in season. These fights can sometimes end with one of the bulls being fatally wounded.

    Bulls’ mating behaviour starts with scraping their horns. A few weeks later, they start kicking up rutting pits in the ground. A rutting pit can be 1.5 metres in diameter and 30–40 cm deep. The rutting bull urinates in it and then wallows in the mud. Cows also often roll in the urine-soaked pits.

    Most female moose reach sexual maturity when they are two years old, and give birth to their first calf at the age of three. However, in the barren conditions of inland Norrland, moose can take up to five years to reach sexual maturity.

    Receptive to fertilisation for a single day

    The moose cow is only receptive to fertilisation for a single day. If she is not fertilised that day, she will not come into season again for another three weeks. Calves born as late as the end of June are therefore the result of coming back into season. When an moose cow comes back into season, there may be no rutting bulls. Research suggests that cows that become pregnant later are more likely to give birth to bull calves.

    An moose cow is pregnant for eight months, and usually gives birth to one or two calves. Triplets are rare. The calves can follow their mother after just a few hours. As a newborn the calf only drinks milk, but soon learns to eat plants and stops suckling completely towards October or November. By this time, the calf will weigh almost 150 kilograms. The calves follow their mother up until a few weeks before she calves again. She then usually pushes the calf away abruptly, and last year’s rejected calves wander around lost to begin with. Because they are unshy and curious, they are at high risk of being involved in road accidents.

    There are around 250,000–350,000 moose in the whole of Sweden, but in the peak years of the 1980s there were many more – perhaps as many as 500,000. Moose attract so much attention that a tourist industry has developed around them and the road signs that warn of their presence.

    Moose hunting in the autumn

    Every autumn, around 250,000 moose hunters head out into the forests and spend a total of three million hunting days shooting just over 80,000 elk (2000s). This means that the moose population is kept at a relatively stable level, and that there are far fewer moose in the forest during the winter months before a new generation is born. The moose’s impressive antlers are a popular hunting trophy.

    Can cause damage

    The moose’s grazing can cause significant damage to young pine forests in particular, but also to deciduous forests. The risk of grazing damage due to moose and deer has meant that forest owners in southern Sweden have avoided planting pine for many years, with consequences for the forests of the future. More than 5,000 moose are struck by vehicles every year, with both human and financial costs.

    The moose is classified as ‘Least Concern’ on the Swedish Species Information Centre’s red list.

You can find the elk here