Given Lapland’s severe climate, one may imagine a paucity of wildlife. But its animals transform in colour and delay their pregnancies in order to survive. Lapland’s Big 5 amaze and delight
Ask any Swede their nightmare scenario of driving along forested roads and they’re likely to suggest the sudden emergence of a moose. If the deer genus can be equated to boxing subdivisions, then moose are the Tyson Fury of the heavyweight division. With long pendulous faces and antlers resembling outstretched hands, these mega-herbivores can bulk up to 500-700kg. Some 80,000 may inhabit the forests of Northern Finland but they’re elusive, preferring solitary lifestyles. Although listen out for them in the Autumnal forests as their antlers clash as bullish males fight over females.
An early experience of ursus arctos, European brown bear, was a solitary male, recently emerged from hibernation. He was hungry. Through a monocular I watched this shaggy giant settle on his backside and gorge seasonal berries, speed-eating, the essence. For between their spring emergence until early winter, male brown bears have much to do: staking territories, seeking females, and accruing weight for winter hibernation in underground dens. Shy and reclusive, they may stretch out to 275cm. Yet most remarkable is the ability of pregnant females to delay egg-fertilising in their own wombs to avoid birthing cubs underground if they’re not in suitable physical condition.
They are slender and rarely seem. They are the hunters of the night, phantom felines with alert antennae-like ears, sensitive to intruders and the detection of quarry, such as roedeer. Little more than 25kg in weight, an estimated 1250 individuals are thought to exist in Sweden’s Lapland region. March is an interesting time to track them. With good fortune you may spot their pawprints in the snowfall when they are active during mating season. A female lynx may raise up to four kittens.
Be very afraid. Pound-for-pound this feisty small mammal, a sort of otter on steroids, is one of the animal kingdom’s bruisers. The Northern hemisphere’s very own Tasmanian devil. Don’t look them in the eye or call them a large weasel, as they might take exception. After all, despite being little greater than 40cm high, they can take down a reindeer. Alternatively called ‘gluttons’, these prodigious predators may also scavenge carrion, yet nowadays number a disconcertingly low 600-700 individuals in Sweden, less in Finland. They’re very difficult to track as they roam far and wide.
Foxes are not Lapland’s only animal to don ghostly-white coats for camouflage during winter – Arctic hares and ptarmigans possess this same changeling ability. Yet none wear them better. Picture the iconic wildlife photographs of these white-furred foxes, fine-boned like porcelain, and at home in the snowfall. Daintier than our common red fox, they shed their winter coats by summer for hues of greyish-brown or bluish-tinged fur as their restless hunts continue seeking small rodents as devoted monogamous couples. Sweden’s north-western mountains are a particular stronghold.
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