European elk

The elk is often referred to as the “King of the Forest”. It’s an apt designation as the elk is Sweden’s largest animal and the antlers of the males are shaped like a crown.Ingressen ska sammanfatta det viktigaste i artikeln. Bör inte vara längre än 250-300 tecken (inkl. mellanslag)

The biggest deer in the world

The elk is the largest existing member of the deer family (Cervidae) in the world. Swedish elks can weigh up to 550 kilos, but in other parts of the world elks can weigh considerably more. The elk is often described as having a brown colour, but its fur varies in shades from dark to light brown, or grey. Elks’ large ears mean they have keen hearing, and are an adaptation for identifying predators early.

Only the bulls have antlers

Bull elks have antlers of varying sizes. The antlers are used to impress females and to frighten off other bulls. Large antlers weigh a lot, and signal that the bull is in good shape. Once the mating season is over, bulls lose their antlers, but they grow new ones in time for the next mating season.

Usually solitary animals

Elks do not live in herds, but can still be seen in groups, such as when the cow elk moves together with her calves, or sometimes when elks migrating between winter and summer ranges form groups. And bull elks accompany the cow elks during the mating season. This is because the cow elk can only be impregnated over the course of a single day and night, so the bull has to keep close by while waiting for the right time.

Big eater and record defecator

Elks are herbivores, and a single elk can eat up to 30 kilos of food per day during the summer. Plants are difficult to digest, and much of what the elk eats comes out again as droppings. 15 large piles of brown pellets per day is perfectly normal for an elk.

In what parts of Europe are there elks?

Elks’ range in Europe is marked here in dark green. Elks are found throughout the northern hemisphere. In Sweden the elk is present all over the country except on the island of Gotland. All elks in the world belong to the same species, but are divided into several subspecies.

From extinct to common

In 1789 the peasantry had their hunting rights reinstated, and as the times were hard this led to such intense hunting of elk that it became almost completely extinct in Sweden by the end of the 19th century. The population recovered slowly at first, but then grew rapidly. Today the elk population is once again lower, at around 300,000, but Sweden still has one of the densest elk populations in the world.

Shortage of berry shrubs leads to thinner elks and damaged trees

As a result of climate change and of a forestry industry that has favoured spruce, berry shrubs have declined in Sweden. The shortage of berry shrubs is considered to be one of the reasons why cow elks as well as calves are getting thinner and smaller. When there aren’t enough berry shrubs, elks seek out pine forests for food. This leads to conflicts with forest owners, who choose to plant spruce in order to avoid having pine trees damaged by browsing elks. This in turn means that the stands of pine that remain become even more exposed to bark stripping by elks.

Forest management with more deciduous trees, shrubs, brushwood and herbs would lead to a stronger elk population and less damage to trees. In other words, plants, animals, forest owners and hunters would all benefit from greater plant variety.

Hunting affects the size of the elk population

72–93 per cent of all elks that die are shot during the hunting season. Hunting thus has a considerable significance for the number of elks in Sweden. Other causes of death include road traffic, predators, and natural causes.

Quick facts

Food: Grass, herbs, berry shrubs, deciduous and coniferous trees

Weight: 200–550 kilo in Sweden

Height at the shoulder: up to 200 centimetres

Mating period: September–October

Young: 1–3 calves born in May–June

Lifespan: up to 25 years