An experience you will never forget: Watch brown bear in the wild! From a comfortable and safe hide you can observe the shy animals walking around, eating and playing without being noticed. Thanks to the midnight sun it's possible to take great pictures almost round the clock.
(Ursus arctos arctos)
More than 2500 bears live in Sweden. Even though they are the most densely populated around the Vildmarksvägen, you'll need quite some luck (or bad luck?) – or a thorough knowledge of the environment and tracking – to meet this omnivore that can weigh up to 650 pounds.
Brown bears feed on herbs, roots, berries, ants, fish, small mammalsand carrion. However, they will occasionally prey on larger mammals like moose or reindeer. They derive up to 90% of their dietary food energy from vegetable matter. In autumn they eat a lot of berries - in one day they can tuck away one third of their own body weight. An average bear diet provides around 4000 to 8000 kcal a day during spring and summer, and 20.000 kcal a day in autumn.
With the resulting thick layer of fat they are ready for hibernation. From october till april they lay hidden in small dens, in general completely or partly underground, and often made out of deserted ant heaps. The cubs are also born during hibernation time.
Brown bears are shy by nature, and will try to avoid encounters with people. With their phenomenal sense of smell and hearing they will be alerted of possible danger with plenty of time to spare. Unexpected encounters are only possible in exceptional situations, e.g. when sounds and smells are carried away by the wind, or with the noise of a stream. If you want to prevent an encounter with a bear, just talk, sing or carry a bell or the like. When camping out in the wild it would be sensible to keep your food out of reach from bears.
What to do if you encounter a bear: if you encounter a bear.
(Alces alces alces)
The king of the woods, with a shoulder height of up to 2 meters and a weight of up to 1500 pounds, feels at ease in birch forests, coniferous forests and marshlands. The moose – or European Elk – is the largest of the deer family. These solitary animals are with their funny striking physique perfectly adapted to the northern wilderness.
With their spreading hoofs they smoothly move forward through the marshlands. Their long legs allow them to easily work their way through meters high layers of snow. On a summer day adult animals can stem 50 to 100 pounds of tree leaves using their long and agile upper lip. These ruminants, who are great swimmers, also love water lilies.
The moose's antlers grow largest when the bulls are 5 to 12 years of age. Every winter after mating season they shed their antlers. These can weigh over 30 pounds and have a length of 1,3 metres. In springtime the new antlers start to grow. With a 'growing season' of only 3 to 5 months the moose's antlers are one of the fastest growing animal organs.
In summer around 300.000 to 400.000 mooses live in Sweden. Every autumn, though, during the hunting season, around 80.000 of these are shot.
Drivers should be careful, especially during twilight hours. In 2009 only the moose was involved in 5.000 car accidents.
(Canis lupus lupus)
Probably no other animal gave rise to so many myths and legends as the wolf, that unfortunately is almost extinct in middle and west-Europe. This shy pack animal will rarely or never be a danger to people. Nevertheless its presence is controversial in Sweden; occasional they can kill a sheep or reindeer calve, scatter reindeer herds, or kill a hunting dog to protect themselves or their territory.
Around 500 wolves live in Scandinavia (almost shared equally between Finland and Sweden, in Norway negligible). In 2010 the controversial wolf hunting started. The wolf population in Sweden got a ceiling of 210 specimen - so 27 were shot. Yet some scientists say that only with 500 specimen one can speak of a healthy and vital population in Sweden.
In Sweden the wolf is denoted on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as 'Critically Endangered'. The biggest problem is the high level of inbreeding. This was one of the reasons given to start the wolf hunting – which was very disappointing for natural scientists and nature organisations. One can't select the wolves with inbreed deficiencies, and none of the shot wolves belonged to the group of 6% showing those deficiencies.
The current population originates from only 3 specimen that migrated from Finland in the 70's. To bring in new genes the migration of wolves from Russia and Finland is very important. Research showed that such a migration does happen, but most wolves don't reach the most important reproduction areas in Dalarna en Värmland. One of the suggested reasons is illegal hunting.
Wolves feed mostly on mooses. The wolf is responsible for only 4% of the amount of moose deaths, which is a little less than traffic accidents, and considerably less than hunting. They also eat roe, reindeer, and smaller mammals such as hare, badger and beaver, and birds.
For the layman wolf tracks are hardly distinguishable from those of a big dog. A good clue can be the rectilinearity of the track.
(Lynx lynx lynx)
The Lynx, counting around 1400 specimen in Sweden, reaches a shoulder height of 50 to 70 centimeter and gets 80 to 120 centimeter long.
Under good conditions a lynx' tracks can be distinguished easily. The front paws leave prints of 5 to 7 centimetres wide, and the back paw prints are 4 to 6 centimetres. The length of the steps are 40 to 100 centimetres (150 for a running lynx). The tracks differ from a dog's or wolf's because often only the prints of the pads are visible – the sharp claws are mostly retracted while walking –, and the frontside of the metacarpal pad has a different ('dented') shape than that of a dog, wolf or fox.
The lynx is an excellent hunter. With its extraordinary sense of hearing and eyes that are 6 times more sensitive to light than the human eye, the lynx can hunt at night without any problem. In addition to the many birds and mammals he preys on (like roe, reindeer, fox, squirrel, hare, beaver) the quick swimming lynx also catches fish.
(Castor fiber fiber)
The best time to see a beaver is from spring to fall, during the early morning or in the evening. At those times this rodent, that can weigh up to 35 kg and measure up to 1,4 metres, is the most active.
Driftwood and trees that have been cut down at knee height show the way to the beaver's buildings. Next to the beaver dam, in the unmoving or slowly streaming water, you can often see a lodge – the beaver's home (see photograph) where the monogamous couple raises their children and where the whole family hibernates.
The entrances of the lodge are under water to make it impossible for other animals to come in. In the fall the lodge is covered with mud. When it freezes, this gets so hard that even wolves and wolverines are kept outside.
Pick up your ears, for then you might hear the splashing noise of the beaver flapping its tail forecfully on the water surface. A diving beaver might remain under water for 20 minutes before it emerges again. However, somewhere around the noise you will usually see the curious bever eyes resurfacing within shortly.
A beaver can live to be 20 years old, and feeds on leaves, twigs and branches, bark, grass, herbs and water plants.
(Rangifer tarandus tarandus)
All over around the Vildmarksvägen, especially on the part crossing Stekenjokk, chances are very high to run into one ore more herds of reindeer.
The semi-wild animals are curious and easily photographed with a proper telephoto lens. Mind not to scare them off, and remain at a large distance, especially in autumn, for ruttish reindeer bucks can be very aggressive.
Reindeer walk over the road without being aware of any danger – so, drivers, watch out for these ones as well!
In Sweden herding reindeer is a privilege for the Sami. At least 2500 years ago the Sami came from Siberia to Scandinavia. Untill the 18th century the reindeer, of which the females have antlers too, was primarily a pack and draught animal (although the milk, the meat and the fur were used too). Today reindeer herding is a much larger-scale business and primarily focussed on the production of meat.
Herds can roam around and graze freely; the Sami will follow them. In summer they graze chiefly in the mountains. The winter pastures are the more sheltered areas of coniferous forests, where the reindeer find nourishing lichens and other food under the snow. In the late fall the scattered animals are being driven together, often by means of snowmobiles or even a helicopter. Then the calves are marked, a portion of the animals are slaughtered, and the majority is transferred to the winter pastures.
(Gulo gulo luscus)
The wolverine's name is good,
For he wolfs down a lot of food.
The wolverine, which looks rather like a small bear but belongs to the weasel family, was nearly totally extinct in Sweden, untill it became protected in 1969. Since then the population has slowly recuperated, and today the total number is esimated around 500 animals. They need vast areas of virgin nature – a male has a territory of 600 to 1000 km2 – and live mostly in the in the north-eastern mountain areas. Just like the wolf, the wolverine is on the red list of endangered species. Threats include inbreeding and illegal hunting.
Biologist of yore told interesting fables about these animals. Although the following has proven to be totally untrue, it is still a worthy example:
In Lithuania and Moskovia there lives an animal that is very voracious, and is called a Rosomaka. It is as large as a dog, has eyes like a cat, very strong claws, a long haired brown torso, and a tail like a fox, although shorter. When it finds food, it devours it until its body is as full as a drum. Then it wrings itself through two trees that stand close to each other in order to relieve itself, after which it returns to eat more, and then again it wrings itself through the trees. It will go on like this until all food has been devoured. It seems to do nothing else but eating, drinking, and eating again.
Those who observingly wander through the mountains and forests around the Vildmarksvägen, have a good chance to find wolverine tracks. These can be recognised by the 5 toes (although the small one doesn't always print), 2 heel pads of which the larger one always prints, and a metatarsal pad consisting of small pads that form a semicircle.
In summer the wolverine primarily feeds on small mammals, but eggs, berries and other vegetal foods are part of the menu as well. In winter, when this 'Hyena of the North' on its large feet moves around easily (and silently) over the snow layers – in contrast to the larger animals that it preys on –, it occasionally attacks also, apart from hares and gouses, a deer, reindeer or even an moose.
The wolverine attacks larger animals by jumping on their back and sinking its teeth into the neck until the prey falls over. If he can't eat the whole catch at once, he will use its potent scent glands by sprinkling a pungent odour over the remainders, which are buried for later use. This individualist, which can reach 15 years of age, will also use this odor for marking its territory and chasing off other larger mammals such as bears and wolves.
Lemming (Lemmus lemmus)
The lemming can be found in the far north, on the tundras, in mountain areas, and in the open field. The size of the lemming population can show very great changes in just a few years. The population of animals that prey primarily on lemmings, like the arctic fox, changes in accordance with the number of lemmings abound: during a good lemming year they will get more young ones a litter. So next year there will be more predators and less lemmings, and then the predators will have less youngs so the lemming population can grow again.
When the number grows very big, large groups of animals will migrate to other areas. These mass migrations gave rise to many folk tales. For instance, large groups of lemmings are said to commit suicide collectively during such a mass migration. Indeed it might look like this when many lemmings drown, in spite of being good swimmers, when trying to cross a river or a lake.
This myth has been reinforced by comic books, films and documentaries. The Disney movie 'White Wilderness' that was made in 1958 and won an Academy Award for 'Best Documentary', shows a scene with lemmings jumping off a cliff. Both this scene and the scenes of mass migration turned out to be set in scene…
(Alopex lagopus lagopus)
If you are really very lucky you might encounter an arctic fox. In the 19th century there were around 4000 of these animals, but they were nearly eradicated because of their gorgeous fur that yielded high prices. Now the arctic fox is a protected species there are again some 140 of them in North Sweden. Around 30 or 40 of these live around the Borgafjäll in the Vildmarksvägen area. The species got the status of 'critically endangered'. Climate changes and competition of the Red Fox are mentioned as causes.
The arctic fox weighs about 5 kg, measures 30 cm at shoulder height and 65 to 90 cm lengthwise. The colour of its fur changes with the seasons. In summer his beige, brown and grey fur is good camouflage for one of his greatest enemies, the golden eagle. In winter his snow white fleece will make him virtually invisible. Still, there are variations in colour among arctic foxes. The so called Blue Fox is bluish grey. This colour variation is a recessive trait. Also there is a very rare type with sandy-coloured fur.
The arctic fox feeds primarily on lemmings, hares, eggs and deserted carcasses. In years when there are many lemmings the arctic fox will have considerably more youngs.
Read here the Summary of Actions for the arctic fox in Sweden
Do you want to learn more about predator footprints? This booklet shows the tracks of the wolf, lynx, bear, wolvrine and fox.