Alnis (Alces alces)

Brief background:
: males - up to 600 kg, females - up to 400 kg.
Length: males – up to 310 cm; at withers up to 205 cm, females – up to 250 cm; at withers up to 190 cm
Sexual maturity age: males ~ at 3 years of age | females at 2-3 years of age
Mating period: September-October
Gestation period: ~ 8 months (~244 days)
Number of offspring: 1-2, born in May-June
Lifespan: 15-20 years
Natural predators: wolves, sometimes - bears
Status of the species in Latvia: A widely distributed and very common species throughout the entire territory of Latvia. According to the data of the State Forest Service of 2019, the population of elk in Latvia is approximately 23,000 individuals.

Where do they live? Elks are typical forest animals. They inhabit various types of forests, shrublands, young forest stands, meadows, borders of swamps, banks of water bodies. Elks, as well as other biungulates living in Latvia, are fond of feeding on forestry and agriculture crops.

How do they live? These large forest inhabitants usually live in families (mainly cows with calves), in a small groups or alone. Bulls mark and protect their territory during the mating season. Elk bulls are not too faithful partners. Usually, a bull sticks to one cow for some time, then to another, etc. In contrast to other biungulates of Latvia, upon birth, the fur of the young elk calves is not spotted, but has a homogeneous reddish-brown colour. Elk cows protect their calves and, if in danger, can even attack humans!

What do they eat? Elk is a typical herbivorous animal feeding on approximately 60 different grass and 30 woody plant (leaves, branches, young shoots, buds, needles) species. Elks are ruminants - they swallow the plant-based food almost whole, without chewing. Afterwards, during moments of rest, the swallowed food is regurgitated and chewed for the second time, swallowed again and, afterwards, the digestion process continues in the stomach.

Did you know?

  • Elk is the largest animal in Latvia in terms of height.
  • Elks are the largest representatives of the deer family.
  • There are approximately eight subspecies of elk.
  • Elk is characterised by a long mandible and upper lip, mane on the withers and “beard” under the chin.
  • The weight of the antlers of an adult elk can reach almost 20 kilos.
  • In contrast to most deer species, elk are solitary animals.
  • Elsk are biungulates – when walking, they evenly distribute the weight between the two principal toes (the third and the fourth).
  • Elks enjoy swimming.
  • In search of food under water, elk can even dive to a depth of five metres.
  • Elks can seal their nostrils, which enables them to hold their breath and even eat plants under the water.
  • Elk fur has hollow hair, which allows the animals to retain warmth in winter and keep above the water, while swimming.
  • For short distances, elk can develop a speed of 55 km/h.
  • As multiple cave paintings found in Europe show, people were hunting elk as early as in the Stone Age. In Sweden, during an archaeological excavation, elk antlers that are 8000 years old were found.
  • In contrast to other biungulates of Latvia, upon birth, the fur of the young elk calves is not spotted, but has a homogeneous reddish-brown colour.
  • Elks communicate by using various strange sounds that mostly resemble moaning and whining.
  • Male elks spend as much energy on growing their antlers every year as female elks spend during pregnancy.
  • Like the red deer and roe deer, elk do not have upper teeth.
  • Elks came to the verge of extinction during the First World War and the Second World War, when they were intensively hunted for meat and skin.
  • During the war, elks were used for transportation and communication purposes as well, their skins were used to make clothing for army soldiers.
  • Elks are among the most popular game animals, mainly due to their trophy antlers.
  • Elk is the national animal of Sweden (Jämtland Province), Canada (Yukon territory) as well as the terrestrial mammal of Alaska State.
  • In the ancient territory of Latvia, Elk served as a totem (symbolic) animal.

Myths and truth. The antlers of male elk already start developing during the first year of life. In adult bulls, the antlers grow from April to July-August, they are comparatively “soft” and covered with young, hairy skin during the growth period. Later they solidify and the skin is rubbed off them. Usually, by the mating period in September, their head decor is completely clean and free of skin. Elk shed their antlers in November-December. The number of branches on the antlers cannot be used to determine the age of the elk!