The mighty moose and the other antlered animals of our forests

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In Finland, moose are found throughout the country apart from the fell regions. It is not shy of humans and can live very close to habitation.

Just over a hundred years ago, the moose was on the verge of extinction in Finland because of excessive hunting. At the beginning of the 1920s, just a couple of hundred individuals remained. It was placed under full protection in 1924 and strictly limited hunting was only allowed to recommence a decade later. Conservation measures have spurred rapid growth in the moose population; some 91,000 individuals remained after the autumn 2008 hunting season. Moose hunting is heavily regulated nowadays. Even though hunters have felled about 60,000 moose annually in recent years, the size of the moose population has remained relatively stable.

The moose has benefited from forestry measures. It favours logged forest openings and sapling stands because they are an easy source of food such as grasses, herbs, deciduous tree leaves and shoots. Aspen, willow and rowan saplings are a particular favourite of the moose. The moose can also digest aquatic plants – the thick-rooted bog-bean, and horsetails are considered a special delicacy by these animals. In winter, the moose can damage pine saplings and even larger trees by eating their annual shoots, tops and branches or by gnawing at their bark. Moose are also involved in numerous road accidents.

The Finnish forest reindeer is also indigenous to Finland. This wild relative of the reindeer is considered a subspecies of the mountain reindeer, the species from which the reindeer was domesticated. It is often difficult to tell the reindeer and the Finnish forest reindeer apart, but the latter usually has taller legs and is larger in size and darker in colour.
The Finnish forest reindeer was found almost throughout our country in the 17th century, but hunters eradicated the species by the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. However, some Finnish forest reindeer remained in Russian Karelia and some of these later wandered over to Kuhmo on the Finnish side. A few individuals were transplanted from Kuhmo to the Salamajärvi National Park in Suomenselkä at the turn of the 1970s and 80s. The population has thrived better than expected there and has at its highest comprised over a thousand individuals. The Finnish forest reindeer is nowadays also a game animal.

The Kuhmo population fared well up to the turn of the millennium, at which time it numbered almost two thousand. The population of Finnish forest reindeer in Kuhmo has declined clearly in recent years, however, due at least in part to hunting and an increase in predator populations. Other possible reasons for the reduction are also being investigated. The fear is that the Finnish forest reindeer population will become mixed with the more northern reindeer. This is why a fence is being built to separate the two subspecies from each other on the southern edge of the reindeer husbandry area.
 
Finnish forest reindeer spend the summers grazing in lush boglands and their edges, but for winter they migrate to dry heath forests in search of lichen. They may also wander into grain fields to feed.

In Finland, the forest reindeer is the only species of deer to be classified as near threatened. This subspecies is not found elsewhere in Europe apart from Russian Karelia. The caribou that live in Alaska and Canada are related to the Finnish forest reindeer, as are the other mountain reindeer subspecies, which populate Spitsbergen, Greenland and the fells of Southern Norway.

The roe deer is a small deer species, which weighs only 20 – 30 kg. Its population is spread across almost all of Europe. The roe deer was part of the fauna of Finland up to the Middle Ages, after which it became extinct in our country. The species has returned in recent decades, partly due to human introduction as well as natural migration from neighbouring countries. Roe deer enter Finland from Sweden around the Gulf of Bothnia and across the Karelian isthmus from Russia. The population has grown strongly since the turn of the 1980s and 90s and especially during the present millennium. One likely reason is climate change and the small amounts of snowfall in Southern Finland. Just a half a metre of snow makes movement and the finding of food considerably more difficult for this species. The present roe deer population of Finland is estimated to be about 25,000, of which a few thousand are felled annually.

Two non-indigenous species of deer are also found in Finland. The white-tailed deer (or Virginia deer and also known simply as the whitetail) – was introduced from North America into the grounds of Laukko Manor, Vesilahti, in 1934. Just a few individuals formed the base population, which has since then spread across wide expanses of South and South-West Finland. Some 20,000 white-tailed deer are hunted each year and the size of the post-hunting-season population is about 30,000.

The white-tailed deer prefers small mosaics that are formed by fields and woodlands, but it avoids extensive areas of continuous forest. Its nourishment is made up of many different kinds of plants, such as herbs, grasses and tree branches. In winter, the species largely survives on feed provided by hunters. The species is spreading northward, helped by low snowfall in wintertime.
 
The fallow deer is also alien to the nature of Finland. It is thought to originate from the Mediterranean region. It has been introduced into Hyvinkää and the Inkoo archipelago, for example, but it has not thrived as well as its relatives. The population of around 600 individuals needs additional feeding in wintertime, but climate change might make Finland an easier environment for this species in future.

The UN has named 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity. This series of articles focuses on concepts and phenomena related to the diversity of nature. 

Suvi Raivio, Senior Adviser (Biodiversity),
Finnish Forest Industries Federation
Tel. +358 9 132 6671, firstname.lastname@forestindustries.fi