As warm weather arrived, so did the annual birthing season at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park. The latest new arrivals at the Highlands are two Elk twins, born on May 15. With their long, gangly legs and adorably oversized ears, the youngsters are already stealing visitors’ hearts.
Elk became extinct in Scotland between 1,000 and 7,000 years ago, and are a perfect fit for the Highland Wildlife Park, which specialises in native species---past and present, as well as cold tundra animals from around the world. Elk can still be found in woodlands in the northern hemisphere, throughout Scandinavia and northern Russia. Elk are particularly good at running for long periods of time, fighting off predators (due to their size and powerful kicks) and swimming.
Morag Sellar, Head Hoofed Stock Keeper at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park, said, “The twins are still a little shaky on their long legs, but they are already able to keep up with their mother Cas and run around for short distances. The youngsters will continue to suckle for the next five months whilst learning to forage. Although small now, they will grow to an impressive ten times their birth size.
“We are particularly proud of our success with Elk which was acknowledged at last year’s BIAZA (British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums) Awards, where the Park received a silver award for the captive husbandry of European Elk/Moose.”
The Elk (Eurasia) or Moose (North America), Alces alces, is the largest extant species in the deer family. The palmate antlers of the males distinguish Elk/Moose; other members of the family have antlers with a dendritic ("twig-like") configuration. They typically inhabit boreal and mixed deciduous forests of the Northern Hemisphere in temperate to subarctic climates. The species used to have a much wider range but hunting and other human activities have greatly reduced it. Elk/Moose have been reintroduced to some of their former habitats. Currently, most are found in Canada, Alaska, New England, Scandinavia, Latvia, Estonia and Russia.
Their diet consists of both terrestrial and aquatic vegetation. Their most common predators are wolves, bears and humans. Unlike most other deer species, Elk/Moose are solitary animals and do not form herds. Although generally slow-moving and sedentary, they can become aggressive and move quickly if angered or startled. Their mating season in the autumn can lead to spectacular fights between males competing for a female.
On average, an adult stands 1.4–2.1 m (4.6–6.9 ft) high at the shoulder. Males (or "bulls") normally weigh from 380 to 700 kg (838 to 1,543 lb) and females (or "cows") typically weigh 200 to 490 kg (441 to 1,080 lb). The head-and-body length is 2.4–3.1 m (7.9–10.2 ft), with the vestigial tail adding only a further 5–12 cm (2.0–4.7 in). Typically, the antlers of a mature bull are between 1.2 m (3.9 ft) and 1.5 m (4.9 ft).
Female Elk/Moose have an eight-month gestation period, usually bearing one calf, or twins if food is plentiful, in May or June. Newborns have fur with a reddish hue, in contrast to the brown appearance of an adult. The young will stay with the mother until just before the next young are born. The average life span is about 15–25 years.
The twins and their parents can be seen in the main drive-through reserve at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park.