European elk: Alces alces alces

PRODUCT HIGHLIGHTS

Alces alces is a circumpolar species which is known as European elk in Europe and Moose in North America. It is one of the largest wild animals in Europe and is mostly restricted to the boreal zone of north-east Europe. It is a browser and in the winter moves into the forest to feed on young shoots of conifers and the twigs and bark of deciduous shrubs and trees. This damage causes significant losses to forestry and in most of its European range population levels are monitored and controlled through regulated hunting.

Elk is an important game species and provides an economically viable alternative to more ecologically destructive land uses, and could help accomplish the overall goals of biodiversity conservation. Recently, trophy hunting has increasingly replaced traditional meat hunting. Its recreational value and meat are inherent components of recreational hunting that prevails in comparison with subsistence hunting. However, despite extensive control of elk populations, numbers are increasing with a considerable impact on commercial forestry. Elk also cause a significant number of road traffic accidents.

 

 

ID&ECOLOGY

The Elk or Moose (Alces alces Linnaeus, 1758) is a large ungulate belonging to the order Artiodactyla, family Cervidae which has a circumpolar (i.e. found in the vicinity of a terrestrial pole) distribution in the boreal forests of the Northern Hemisphere. European elk which is a sub-species Alces alces alces should not be confused with North American elk, Cervus canadensis, which are a different species with Alces alces commonly called moose in North America. The name “Moose” come from the Algonquin word “moosu” for “twig biter” or “he strips off young tree bark” (Rea and Child 2007). The word elk, like the Swedish word älg (pronounced /elj/), is taken from the Latin alces and this is derived from the Greek word “alké” which means strength (Bjärvall and Ullström 1986).

The European subspecies of elk Alces alces spp. alces is generally regarded as medium-sized with males weighing about 320 to 475 kg and females between 275 to 375 kg with shoulder height ranging from 1.7 to 2.1 m. European elk are found in Scandinavia, the Baltic states, European Russia (up to the Yenissei river), Belarus, Poland and northern Ukraine and was formerly widely distributed in Central Europe. Three isolated sub-populations are found in the southern Czech Republic, and the species is occasionally recorded in Germany, Croatia, Hungary and Romania. Since the 1960’s it has been slowly extending its range southwards along the rivers into the northern Caucasus lowlands. Within this area it ranges from sea level up to at least 1,500 m in Europe (IUCN 2016) and generally spends the summer at higher altitudes or latitudes and concentrates in forest for the winter.

Elk is found in a range of coniferous and deciduous forest habitats, from the northern forest biomes (tundra and taiga) southwards through boreal to temperate zones. It prefers damp habitats close to water bodies. Elk are adapted to cold environments and are intolerant to high temperatures, however, moose can adapt to climate changes using both physiological and behavioural mechanisms to reduce thermal stress (Belova 2013). In the growing season (from May to October), elk prefer forest edges, wet deciduous stands, marshes and bogs and even in the small groves and shrubs. In winter, animals select habitats with higher food supply (e.g. forests with pine and aspen plantations, clear-cuts and wetlands) (Fauna of Lithuania 1988; Miller and Litvaitis 1992; Heikkilä and Härkönen 1996; Belova 2013). Elk annual seasonal migration from summer to winter habitats is e.g., near 20-30 km and up to 50 km in Lithuania (Baleisis et al. 2003; Belova 2013) and 100 km in Norway (Andersen et al. 2010)). Simultaneously with long distances, short-distance movements (diffusion dispersal, Pielou 1979) into the suitable habitats and their parts as are characteristic to moose, e.g. in Lithuania daily movements of moose within their habitats comprise up to 5 km (Baleisis et al. 2003). In the mid 20th century the usual movement to the winter habitats had ended by mid-November, but more recently changes in the winter duration are reflected in later arrival at winter habitats (from mid-November to the mid- December) (Belova 2013, 2015) The individual territory of males (bulls) extends to 5,500 ha with female groups more restricted to is 500-1,000 ha (Baleisis et al. 2003). Such large territories are not defended with the exception of cows with calves that object to neighbours close to their territory. During the mating, female and bull keep the territory near 100-200 ha.

By feeding, elk is a ruminant “browser” (Edenius 1991; Belova 2013) (concentrate selectors – Hofmann 1989) (i.e. animals that select diets containing at least 75% tree and shrub stems, shoots and foliage, dicot foliage and fruits). Elk impact on woody forest vegetation shows an increasing trend under conditions of recent and further climate changes (Belova 2013). However, moose have been demonstrated to be keystone species, as the elimination of species, leading to a lack of consumption of some phytomass, results in unsustainability of ecosystems due to interrupted compensatory growth. It shows necessity of sustainable management of their populations territorially, quantitatively (reducing or increasing their number) and qualitatively (seeking for the optimal sex and age structure of populations).

Refs:

Andersen, R., Lund, E., Solberg, E.J., and Saether, B.-R. 2001. Ungulates and their management in Norway. In: Apollonio, M., Andersen. R. and Putman, R. European Ungulates and Their Management in the 21st Century. Cambridge University Press, p. 14-36.

Baleisis, R., Bluzma, P. and Balciauskas, L. 2003. Ungulates of Lithuania. Vilnius, Akstis, 215 pp. (In Lithuanian with English summary).

Belova, O. 2013. The Impact of Moose (Alces alces L.) on Woody Vegetation and Potential Role of Ecological Corridors in the Transboundary Forests. Baltic Forestry 19(1): 67-80 http://www.balticforestry.mi.lt/bf/PDF_Articles/2013-19[1]/Belova%20Olgirda.pdf

Belova, O. 2015. Moose on the area of MMMPV http://www.mi.lt/lmi/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=470&Itemid=496&lang=en

Bjärvall A, and Ullström S. 1986. The mammals of Britain and Europe. Croom Helm.

Edenius, L. 1991. The Effect of Resource Depletion on the Feeding Behaviour of a Browser: Winter Foraging by Moose on Scots Pine. Journal of Applied Ecology 28(1): 318-328.https://www.jstor.org/stable/2404132?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Fauna of Lithuania. Mammals. 1988. Vilnius, Mokslas, 294 pp.

Heikkilä, R. and Härkönen, S. 1996. Moose Browsing in Young Scots Pine Stands in Relation to Forest Management. Forest Ecology and Management 88(1-2): 179-186.

Hofmann, R.R. 1989. Evolutionary steps of ecophysiological adaptation and diversification of ruminants: A comparative view of their digestive system. Oecologia 78: 443-457.  https://www.uky.edu/Ag/AnimalSciences/instruction/asc684/PDF/oecologia78_443.pdf

IUCN Red List. 2016. http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/41782/1

Miller, B.K. and Litvaitis, J. 1992. Habitat segregation by moose in a boreal forest ecotone. Acta Theriologica 37 (1-2): 41-50.

Pielou, E. C. 1979. Biogeography. John Wiley and Sons, New York, New York, USA.

Rea, R. V. and Child, K. N. 2007. Features Species – Moose. In: Wildlife Data Centre. Wildlife Afield, p. 285-317.

 

DATA&MODELS

The general population in Europe is in the order of 0.5 million and the global one reaches 1.5 million individuals. Populations in Europe express fluctuations over a multi-year cycle. By 2015 Statistics, population estimates for European countries include the following: Czech Republic – maximum of 50 animals, Estonia – 12,000, Lithuania – 12,853, Latvia – 21,000 individuals, Finland – at least 120,000 individuals (60-80,000 shot annually), Poland – 2,800 individuals, Sweden – 350,000 individuals.

The main parameters for harvest modelling are age-sex structure of the population (Lithuania, Finland, Sweden, Norway) (Jonzén et al. 2013; Wam et al. 2005; Olaussen and Skonhoft 2011; Belova 2006, 2015). In this case, the higher share of young animals in the harvest and the rate of population increase by changing the relation between adult males and adult females in the harvest. Trophy male optimisation implies age-selective harvesting of males. The increase in calf harvest (meat production) and protection of adult (reproductive) females cause an increase in age in the local population. In such cases, the decrease in calf carcass weight shows that food supply is insufficient or there is an effect of density-dependent factors.

Refs:

Belova, O. 2006. Game Management State and Topicalities in the Context of Small-Scale Forestry in Lithuania. Baltic Forestry 12 (2): 243-251.

Belova, O. 2015. European Elk on the area of MMMPV. Available at: http://www.mi.lt/lmi/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=470&Itemid=496&lang=en

Jonzén, N., Sand, H., Wabakken, P., Swenson, J.E., Kindberg, J., Liberg, O. and Chapron, G. 2013. Sharing the bounty—Adjusting harvest to predator return in the Scandinavian human–wolf–bear–moose system. Ecological Modelling 265: 140– 148.

Olaussen, J. O. and Skonhoft, A. 2011. A cost-benefit analysis of moose harvesting in Scandinavia. A stage structured modelling approach.  Trondheim, Norway, 33 pp.

Wam, H.K., Hofstad, O., Nævdal, E. and Sankhayan, P. 2005. A bio-economic model for optimal harvest of timber and moose. Forest Ecology and Management 206: 207–219.

MANAGEMENT

Elk represent a primary resource for recreational hunting. Natural predators have minimal impact on elk populations while poaching and restricted hunting e.g. regulatory regimes including hunting licenses and closed seasons, has a stimulatory effect on population growth and elk populations are generally increasing within the species’ range despite climate change. The population growth is facilitated by changes in forest management such as reforestation and establishment of mosaic effects in forest habitats and protection of wetland which serves to create more shelter and food resources. Management of elk population on the ground generally conforms to the Malawi principles (CBD, Lilongwe, Malawi, 26-28 January 1998) which emphasized the need for implementation of culls at the lowest appropriate level. It is less suitable for elk due their seasonal movements. Therefore, one forest owners/holders can suffer damage caused by elk while another can manage wintering population as in the last decade, the seasonal migration is late because of longer vegetative warmer period (Belova 2013, 2015). Appropriate changes in hunting season terms and distribution of licenses for elk between hunting units allow hunters to manage local population on the ground by varying population density (permissible and ecological), qualitative structure (optimizing and maintaining sex ratio and the share of juveniles in the local population) and damage caused to forestry.

Elk population could be managed towards its (a) increase; (b) towards its decrease; and (c) ‘sustainable’ i.e. constant harvesting and (d) no intervention leaving it to itself but monitoring the situation. Population dynamic theory shows that culling calves will less affect future growth of population than taking cows calving for the first time. An increase in the share of young animals in the harvest will increase the proportion of adults and productive animals in the winter population. An age-selective harvest strategy results in a significantly faster overall population growth rate and helps to optimise hunting opportunities for meat or trophy animals. Hunting effects can be particularly pronounced in licensed harvesting regimes where cull prescriptions can be used to manipulate the  and if the population size and structure. It is just such a strategy which is used in Lithuania, e.g. the share of young animals in the harvest and the rate of population increase is varied by changing the ratio of adult males and adult females in the cull. Trophy male optimisation implies age-selective harvesting of males. The increase in calf harvest (meat production) and protection of adult (reproductive) females results in increase of age in the local population. In such cases, any decrease in calf carcass weight indicates that food supply is insufficient or there are independent density-dependent factors.

Refs

Belova, O. 2013. The Impact of Moose (Alces alces L.) on Woody Vegetation and Potential Role of Ecological Corridors in the Transboundary Forests. Baltic Forestry 19(1): 67-80 http://www.balticforestry.mi.lt/bf/PDF_Articles/2013-19[1]/Belova%20Olgirda.pdf

Belova, O. 2015. Moose on the area of MMMPV http://www.mi.lt/lmi/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=470&Itemid=496&lang=en

Convention on Biological Diversity. Conference of the Parties of  the Convention of Biological Diversity. UNEP/CBD/COP/4/Inf.9. 20 March 1998.

TRADE

The main product is meat (venison) that is nutritious with low fat content (Hansson and Malmfors 1978; Hawley et al. 1983). Mean carcass weights are (Fauna of Lithuania 1988; Baleisis et al. 2003):

Calves (0.5 – 1 yr old)    Male 73 kg (58-84 kg)          Female 66 kg (56-97 kg)

Adults                          Male 191 kg (112-269 kg)    Female  141 kg (96-232 kg)

Elk venison is not only consumed by hunters but also provided for the local and international market. Markets for Cervidae venison is traditionally strong and stable in Europe. According to Veeroja and Mannil (2014), during the last two decades the amounts of meat from harvested moose has increased almost six times, which allows meat processors to diversify their production. Meat quality can be defined in a number of ways, with technological, nutritional, hygienic and sensory aspects are taken into consideration. Elk meat is supplied for local and international market as proceeded products (dried, smoked or canned meat) along the trophy commodities as antler wares for souvenirs, decoration, furniture, chandeliers or skins for decoration and carpets.

A specialized market for elk venison is under development in many countries as the meat quality corresponds to modern dietary demands. Elk venison is fibrous, without fat layers in the cross-sectional surface of muscle, which refer to marbling in comparison with beef. The connective tissue is underdeveloped being uniform in colour, tender and palatable. Venison has a fine muscle structure because of the predominance of red muscle fibres over white fibres. A 100-gram serving of elk venison has only 59 milligrams of cholesterol, 102 calories, 22 grams of high-quality protein with each of the essential amino acids, 5 milligrams of niacin, or 25 percent of the daily value for niacin, or vitamin B-3. It has 0.3 milligrams of riboflavin, or vitamin B-2, or about 17 percent of the daily value. It is a lean source of protein because it has less than 1 gram of total fat per 100-gram serving, and less than 0.5 grams of saturated fat. The IMF content varies from 1.31% to 2.82% which is lower than in wild boar (Strazdiņa et al. 2011). The protein content of the muscle is generally around 22.72% (Strazdiņa et al. 2011). A serving of moose venison contains significant qualities of minerals (selenium, iron and zinc) and is low in salt (sodium and potassium). Nevertheless, there are not all good news. In Finland, it was revealed that cadmium levels are high in liver and kidneys, with the result that consumption of these organs from moose more than one-year-old is prohibited in Finland (Vahteristo et al. 2003)

In terms of microbiological quality, no deer faecal samples were positive for Salmonella (Ishaq and Wright 2012) but Citrobacter freundii, a nitrate reducing bacteria has been found in elk faeces and this is known to be an opportunistic pathogen in humans. Studies of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in elk meat found that levels of toxic POPs were below maximum levels prescribed by  EU food hygiene standards.

Consumptive use of elk resources involves trade (from small-scale and local to international. The use of venison and other game meat may be more environmentally friendly than manufacture and substitutes. Intra-EU transactions are simpler, unless there is a major outbreak of disease. Commercial use includes a tool for maintaining of populations to meet biodiversity conservation. Often moose and other game meat is supposed to be a sort of delicacy among traditional foods. There are large differences in consumption of hunting production among countries, moreover, some countries have limited possibility to harvest moose or in the absence of moose. The majority in Scandinavia and Baltic states consider venison very appealing but other countries could less accept is due to different concepts of edible species, wild species and pets in different cultures and between rural and urban communities. Urban communities consider hunting more supportively due to their closer contact with nature and wildlife. Elk trophy (antlers, skin) are used in hunter households, for exhibitions and decorations. Traders follow detailed guidelines for specific types of hunting production and the general system of declarations and checks at the point of entry into their countries.

Refs:

Baleisis, R., Bluzma, P. and Balciauskas, L. 2003. Ungulates of Lithuania. Vilnius, Akstis, 215 pp. (In Lithuanian with English summary).

Fauna of Lithuania. Mammals. 1988. Vilnius, Mokslas, 294 pp.

Hansson, I. and Malmfors, G. 1978. Meat production from moose, Alces alces (L). Swedish Journal of Agricultural Research 9: 155-159.

Hawley, A.W.L., Sylvén, S. and Wilhelmson, M. 1983. Commercial moose meat production in Sweden. Livestock Production Science 10: 507-516.

Ishaq, S.L. and Wright, A.-D.G. 2012. Insight into the bacterial gut microbiome of the North American moose (Alces alces). Microbiology 12: 2-12  http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2180/12/212

Strazdiņa, V., Jemeljanovs, A., Sterna, V. and Vjazevica, V. 2011. Evaluation of Protein Composition of Game Meat in Latvian Farms and Wildlife. Agronomy Research 9(II): 469–472.

Vahteristo, L., Lyytikäinen, T., Venäläinen, E. R., Eskola, M., Lindfors, E., Pohjanvirta, R. and Maijala, R. 2003. Cadmium intake of moose hunters in Finland from consumption of moose meat, liver and kidney. Food Additives and Contamination 20: 453–463.

Veeroja, R. and Mannil, P. 2014. Status of Game populations in Estonia and proposal for hunting in 2014. Keskkonnaagentuur. Tartu, 94 pp. (in Estonian)

COUNTRY SPECIFICS

ESTONIA

Veeroja, R. and Mannil, P. 2014. Status of Game populations in Estonia and proposal for hunting in 2014. Keskkonnaagentuur. Tartu, 94 pp. (in Estonian)

Tänavots, A., Poldvere, A., Torp, J., Soidla R., Mahla, T., Andreson, H. and Lepasalu, L. 2015. Effect of age on composition and quality of Longissimus thoracis muscle of the moose (Alces alces L.) harvested in Estonia. Agronomy Research 13(4): 1131–1142.

FINLAND

There has been much work in Finland on the quality of elk meat intended for human consumption. A ban on the consumption of liver and kidneys from animals more than one year old resulted from the finding that these organs accumulate cadmium (Vahteristo et al.2003).

Vahteristo, L., Lyytikäinen, T., Venäläinen, E. R., Eskola, M., Lindfors, E., Pohjanvirta, R. andMaijala, R. 2003. Cadmium intake of moose hunters in Finland from consumption of moose meat, liver and kidney. Food Additives and Contamination 20: 453–463.

All clear for Finnish foods. 2003. http://www.foodqualitynews.com/Food-Outbreaks/

Suutari, A., Hallikainen, A., Ruokojärvi, P., Kiviranta, H., Nieminen, M. and, Laaksonen, S. 2011. Persistent Organic Pollutants in Finnish Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus) and Moose (Alces alces). In: Proceedings Environmental contaminants and animal health. Proceedings of the 26th Symposium of the Nordic Committee for Veterinary Scientific Cooperation (NKVet). Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica, Vol. 54, Supplement 1.

Heikkilä, R. and Härkönen, S. 1996. Moose Browsing in Young Scots Pine Stands in Relation to Forest Management. Forest Ecology and Management 88(1-2): 179-186.

Nygrén, T., Pusenius, J., Tiilikainen, R. and Korpelainen, J. 2007. Moose antler type polymorphism: age and weight dependent phenotypes and phenotype frequencies in space and time. Annals Zool. Fennici 44: 445–461.

LATVIA

Strazdiņa, V., Jemeljanovs, A., Sterna, V. and Vjazevica, V. 2011. Evaluation of Protein Composition of Game Meat in Latvian Farms and Wildlife. Agronomy Research 9(II): 469–472.

LITHUANIA

Belova, O. 2006. Game Management State and Topicalities in the Context of Small-Scale Forestry in Lithuania. Baltic Forestry, 12 (2): 243-251

Belova, O. 2013. The Impact of Moose (Alces alces L.) on Woody Vegetation and Potential Role of Ecological Corridors in the Transboundary Forests. Baltic Forestry 19(1): 67-80 http://www.balticforestry.mi.lt/bf/PDF_Articles/2013-19[1]/Belova%20Olgirda.pdf

Baleisis, R., Bluzma, P. and Balciauskas, L. 2003. Ungulates of Lithuania. Vilnius, Akstis, 215 pp. (In Lithuanian with English summary).

Belova, O. 2015. Moose on the area of MMMPV http://www.mi.lt/lmi/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=470&Itemid=496&lang=en

NORWAY

Andersen, R., Lund, E., Solberg, E.J., and Saether, B.-R. 2001. Ungulates and their management in Norway. In: Apollonio, M., Andersen. R. and Putman, R. European Ungulates and Their Management in the 21st Century. Cambridge University Press, p. 14-36.

SWEDEN

Sylvén, S. 2003. Management and regulated harvest of moose (Alces alces) in Sweden. Doctor’s dissertation. ISSN 1401-6249, ISBN 91-576-6402-1.

Hawley, A.W.L., Sylvén, S. and Wilhelmson, M. 1983. Commercial moose meat production in Sweden. Livestock Production Science 10: 507-516.

Hansson, I. and Malmfors, G. 1978. Meat production from moose, Alces alces (L). Swedish Journal of Agricultural Research 9: 155-159.

SWEDEN-NORWAY

Jonzén, N., Sand, H., Wabakken, P., Swenson, J.E., Kindberg, J., Liberg, O. and Chapron, G. 2013. Sharing the bounty—Adjusting harvest to predator return in the Scandinavian human–wolf–bear–moose system. Ecological Modelling 265: 140– 148.



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