Sunday, September 7, 2008

Moose Safari

Joe This week M., a new exchange student in Jennifer's lab, invited us to go on a moose (elk) safari, as she was taking some visiting family and had some room in her car. So, this afternoon we loaded up and ventured out into the wilds of Vansjö. We left an hour before our safari was due to start, having been told by another coworker that it only took 30 minutes to drive there.

Turns out it takes more like 45 minutes, not counting the 15 minutes you lose when you assume you've gone to far (based on the above-mentioned coworker's advice) and backtrack to find a filling station. Luckily we had a reservation, so they gave us a couple of minutes grace, but even so we were the last ones in, right behind a father with two little golden haired daughters. We were then delayed a couple of additional minutes when a series of miscommunications led the ticket taker to assume that Jennifer was the mother of said little girls, and a lot of confusion over who was paying for whom and why ensued. Once we had that straightened out, it was on to the elk (moose).

Gårdsjö Älgpark may be only the third largest moose (elk) park in Sweden, but its proprietor is quick to point out that it's the safest, thanks in no small part to it's Jurassic Park inspired system of control gates. It opened only last year, on a 16 hectare family farm to the northwest of Uppsala. At the moment it has a grand total of 6 elk (moose), but 16 hectares is enough space to properly house up to 10, so they're currently manufacturing additional elk as quickly as they can (i.e., about 2 new moose (elk) per annum).

Why all the space? Well, the thing is that elk (moose) like to eat. A lot. They don't reach their full growth until they are about 6 years old, at which point they weigh in around 600 kg, but in the summers leading up to that point they can grow by as much as 2 kg per day. That takes a lot of moose (elk) chow.

The "safari" consisted of two farm tractors pulling flat bed trailers, with about 50 people on board. As we pulled into the first enclosure we could see our first elk (moose), which was making a beeline for the nearest feeding trough, no doubt in response to sound of approaching tourists. When we got there he was waiting patiently for us. He was introduced to us as Gunde, a two year old male. As the proprietor of the moose (elk) park gave his spiel and took questions, Gunde single-mindedly plowed through his trough of chow, then took a few minutes to pose nobly for pictures before trotting off after his keeper into the next range.

The keeper returned followed closely by Göta, the female elk (moose) who he says tends to lurk around him protectively. She was in turn accompanied by her three month old twins, Ilsa and Ida.

At the next stop we watched a demonstration of a moose (elk) being fed milk. The elk (moose) in question were a pair of one year olds named Holger and Helga, and they certainly seemed fond of their milk. As they chased the keeper with the milk bottle around the enclosure, they kept making these deep snuffing noises, which were pretty impressive. Got some lungs on 'em, moose (elk) do.

Holger was a little skittish compared to the rest, because it's heading into the autumn and mating season. This was actually the last tour of the season, although they pick up again in late October after everyone has calmed down a bit. Anyway, the season was no doubt partly responsible for the fact that the elk (moose) were all a little shy of the tourists. Jennifer's temporarily adopted daughters from earlier were visibly disappointed that they weren't going to get to cuddle with a moose (elk), so much so that eventually the proprietor relented and carried them one at a time over to the nearest elk (moose) for a quick pet.

That little family drama averted, we headed back to the cafe and gift shop, where the Swedes all tucked in to fika and everyone else stocked up on moose (elk) themed merchandise. They also have a small Santa Claus museum upstairs, but none of us felt like shilling out the extra 10 SEK. It's possible that one or two of our party may have felt themselves compelled to purchase a small cuddly moose (elk), but who can blame them? I suppose that last pretty much sums up today's lesson: elk (moose) are adorable, in a huge scary sort of way.

Note: for an explanation of the differences between elk, älg, and moose, I direct you to an earlier post, Giant Elk Alert!

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