The animals of Ranua zoo in Lapland give me so much pleasure

I love the Lappish nature with lakes, swamps, rivers and forests, specially in winter time. And the animals of Lapland give me so much pleasure, both wild animals but also tame or half-tame animals. Readers of this blog have probably already noticed I also love to spend times in the Ranua zoo near Rovaniemi. I visit there several times a year and I never get disappointed. And so was this day’s (March 20th, 2017) visit also very successful.

Ranua zoo has a new and rare resident. A polar bear cub was born on November 25th 2016 and has spent about 3 months inside the den with its mother, Venus. And finally, last Monday, the door to the den was opened and the inhabitants could come out. I had the chance today, a week later, to visit the zoo.

At my arrival I could just see the back of Venus as she entered the den for a short feeding of the cub and their mid-day nap. So I went to see all the other animals first. When I returned to the cage of the female polar bear and her cub, they were still napping. But my waiting was rewarded as Venus suddenly put out her head and sniffed in the air to be sure there were no threats to the cub outside. After that the cub was also allowed to come out. And how adorable it was! It has no name yet. The zoo arrange a name competition for the male cub on the website and the name will be final in the end of the summer.

The father, Manasse, lives behind the wall and he was very interested in the smells that came from the other side through a crack in the wall.

So far the cub will go without a name. When it was born, the cub weighed around half a kilogram, but now it is already 10 kilograms.

In the nature the male polar bears are a threat to the cubs. They could kill cubs just to get the female polar bear rutting again. When the female bear has a cub, and that could last for about 2 years, she is not the least interested in the male polar bear. That is why Venus all the time sniffed in the air to find out if there were any threating male bears nearby. The mother bear was looking out for the cub all the time they spent outside the den. There were not so many visitors watching their show today, but in the morning as I arrived there were several buses with visitors. And children from a kindergarden were singing out loud to wake up the polar bears. But that did not work and they went disappointed back to the kindergarden again without seeing the polar bear cub. I do hope they have the chance to come back one day.

The staff of the zoo are very proud of this newcomer, and for good reason, as it is extremely rare for a polar bear to reproduce in captivity. Special focus has been put on monitoring the wellbeing of mother bear Venus. She has now given birth to two polar bear cubs in Ranua zoo. Five years ago her cub Ranzo was born and brought around 150,000 visitors to the zoo. Ranzo lives in an Austrian zoo at the moment.

During this day’s visit the cup and its mother enjoyed the sunny weather and the snow in the cage. The cub wanted to play with the mother and jumped towards her several times. It was so sweet!

The Ranua wildlife park is open daily 10 am to 4 pm. You can stay in the park after closing time. Until 6 pm, if you want.

After the successful show at the polar bear place I also checked the other animals of the wildlife park. Next to the polar bears was the quiet place of the brown bears. That was quiet because the brownbears are still hibernating. They could wake up any day now, though.

Then comes the cage of the wolves. They were out walking in the snow and seemed very content with their lives. And so did the dholes, the wolverines and the lynxes. Especially the lynxes seemed to have the feelings of the spring in their hearts. It would be nice if they could have small lynx babies soon. The wildlife park is expecting a musk ox calf to be born later in the spring. Last year the first musk ox calf was born in the wildlife park. Ranua zoo is the only place in Finland where you can see musk oxes and last year’s calf was the first in 9,000 years to be born in the region of Ranua. The beavers also have small cubs at the moment. But they were all sleeping today during my visit.

Checking out the newcomers in Ranua zoo

Today was a sunny day and 4 degrees celsius here in Rovaniemi, and I decided to make a trip to the Ranua Wildlife Park. I have not visited there since last spring and there have been some changes I wanted to check up.

At the cashier I was told the brown bears were still awake; they had not started the hibernation yet. That was nice to find out, because I was prepared I was too late to see my favourites, the brown bears, this time.

The Otters were taking a nap as I passed by, and after that I saw there were small cubs in the Wild Boars fence. They were digging in the dirt and did not pay any attention to me.

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In the Polar bear fence the male polar bear Manasse was swimming alone around in his pool enjoying the sunny weather. But the amount of visitors certainly did not disturb him nor inspire him to do any tricks with his toys. We were only a handful of visitors this Tuesday afternoon. His female friend, Venus, was moved to a fence of her own and she uses to spend more and more time inside the den. The staff of the zoo is certainly hoping for good news near Christmas about the birth of small polar bear cubs. The behaviour of Venus is pointing in that direction. I caught a quick glimpse of Venus as she was outside the den catching some fresh air.

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In the Brown bear fence it was just silent; the only inhabitant in the first fence, Malla the female bear, was probably inside the den to make preparations for the hibernation. Some orange left-overs outside the door showed she has been out eating them this morning still.

As I approached the fence for Jemma, the younger female bear, the humming voice told me she was there. She still licks her paws and the stone she is lying on and at the same time she makes the humming voice; like a content cat, just as she did last spring at my visit. I suddenly just felt sad about her. She was there all alone and had nothing else to do but to lick her paws. No visitors, no staff members, no friends. If you sometimes think you are bored and alone, you know how Jemma was feeling this day. The staff of Ranua Wildlife park had been manufacturing some tools to play with for the bears so that they would not feel so bored, but today none of the bears was playing with them. I like the idea, though.

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I miss the old male brown bear, Palle-Jooseppi, who has been put to sleep last summer because of his suffering from pains in his bones and his age, 28 years. He wa once found in the forest as a cub alone and abandoned by his mother and has been living in Ranua zoo since then. But this summer it was time for him to move to the brown bears’ heaven. R.I.P. Palle-Jooseppi!

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After the brown bear fences there is a new bridge leading to a new area.

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In the new area live the newcomers, the dholes or the mountain wolves. There are six of them. The oldest of them are Lymy, 8 years and Viuhu 5 years. The four younger dholes are only 2 years old: Jekku, Velmu, Raiku and Kuje. They were spread all over the fence at my visit. The dholes which were overseeing the gray wolves in the fence next to them, were making some nice voices. They seemed a little nervous about the near precence of the gray wolves, but they will probably get used to them eventually.

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The dhole (Cuon alpinus) is a canid native to Central, South and Southeast Asia. Other English names for the species include Asiatic wild dog, Indian wild dog, whistling dog, red wolf and mountain wolf. It is genetically close to species within the genus Canis; like   wolves and dogs. 

The dhole is a highly social animal, living in large clans without rigid dominance hierarchies and containing multiple breeding females. I wish the dholes welcome to Ranua and I hope they will find it nice and comfy in the zoo, even if the circumstances of course are nothing like being out in the wild. The dholes are endangered animals in the areas where they live.  

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After the bored brown bears and the nervous dholes, it was nice to find the wolverine couple playing together and enjoying each others presence. There will certainly be some wolverine-babies next spring.

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Another new comer in the park is the female muskox. The lonely days for the male muskox are over and they also seemed to enjoy each other’s company as they stood there eating hay together. There are no quick movements among the muskoxen; slowly, slowly everything happens.

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In the end of my visit in the Ranua wildlife park I stopped by to check on the Otters again. They were awake now and were really fuzzing around in the pool and the areas around that. They really seemed to enjoy each other’s company; the two male otters Harri and Olli. I wish they could get a female otter’s company soon.

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My conclusion of my visit is: there is really a need for a male brown bear and a female otter in Ranua Wildlife park now. The two female bears are so bored and would certainly be cheered up by a newcomer.

In the Predator Center in Kuusamoone can also get acquainted with some of the large predators that are found in Finland. At the moment, there are several bears at the Center, the oldest of which was born in 1992. Vyoti is probably the best known of all the bears. Foxes and lynx also reside at the Center. The man, Sulo Karjalainen, is living closely together with the bears, and he tells the press there are hugs and kisses between him and the bears almost every day. I wonder if there would be any suitable male brown bear to bring to Ranua zoo, that could cheer up the lonely female bears. On the homepage of the Predator Center you can among other thing follow the bearcam live.

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If you know of any other available single male brown bear, I would suggest you to contact the Ranua Wildlife park.

 

Brown bear cub Jemma in Ranua zoo

Do you remember the little brown bear cub in Ranua zoo, that got abandoned by its mom in spring 2014 and had to be taken care of by the staff? Well, now she has grown a lot since then and finally in August 2014 she got her name, Jemma, too. Ranua zoo arranged a competition among the visitors to decide the name for the young cub.

There was no problem between the bear parents Jehu and Malla, but in spring 2014 when Malla and the new born bear cub came out from the den where the hibernation had taken place, the staff in the zoo soon found out Malla was not kind to the cub. They decided to protect the cub from violence from the mother and took the cub away from her. Some bear mothers really are so violent to their cubs that they could even kill the little cub. And that was something Ranua zoo definitively did not want to happen to this cub.

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A very sad incident is also, that Jehu one day decided to escape from the zoo and got out through the fence into the surrounding forest. The staff of Ranua zoo took the hard decicion to shoot Jehu at that place, because they did not got him back in and he was not considered safe for the surrounding inhabitants of Ranua. At the moment the brown bears in Ranua are Jemma, Malla and Palle-Jooseppi; all three in separate cages.

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Well, Jemma grew up being fed by the staff from bottles. She did not miss her mother and she really likes the audience coming to watch her playing. She has come up with some special sounds as she is licking her paw. Sounds like a kitten. In between she looks up to see if anyone notices her skills. So adorable!

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You can follow more happenings from Jemmas life from the FaceBook site of Ranua Wildlife park.

The Arctic fox

The Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus or Vulpes lagopus), also known as the white fox, polar fox, or snow fox, is a small fox native to the Arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere and common throughout the Arctic tundra biome.
It is well adapted to living in cold environments. It has a deep thick fur which is brown-grey in summer and white in winter. Its body length ranges from 46 to 68 cm (18 to 27 in), with a generally rounded body shape to decrease the escape of body heat. The Arctic fox lives in some of the most frigid extremes on the planet but does not start to shiver until the temperature drops to −70 °C (−94 °F). Among its adaptations for survival in the cold is its dense, multi-layered, pelage which provides excellent insulation, a system of counter-current heat exchange in the circulation within the paws to keep core temperature, and a good supply of body fat.

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The Arctic fox eats any small creatures it can find, including lemmings, voles, ringed seal pups, fish, waterfowl, and seabirds. It will also eat carrion, berries, seaweed, insects, and other small invertebrates. The Arctic fox has such keen hearing that it can find exactly where a small animal is moving under the snow. When it has located its prey, it pounces and punches through the snow to catch its victim. Arctic foxes form monogamous pairs during the breeding season and they will stay together to raise their young in complex underground dens. Occasionally, other family members may assist in raising their young.
Metsähallitus (The National Forestry Office of Finland) is responsible for conservation, management and monitoring species on the areas which it manages. In addition, Metsähallitus has the national responsibility of promoting conservation and organizing monitoring of certain threatened species.
At the moment Metsähallitus has extended responsibility for two animals in Finland, and those are the Arctic fox and the Saimaa ringed seal (Phoca hispida saimensis).
Metsähallitus is a state enterprise that administers more than 12 million hectares of state-owned land and water areas. Metsähallitus has the challenging responsibility of managing and using these areas in a way that benefits Finnish society to the greatest extent possible. In Lapland there are large areas that belong to the Metsähallitus responsibility areas.
Metsähallitus has been making researches regarding the Arctic fox since the end of the twentieth century and sadly to say, this year Metsähallitus did not find any activities in nests from Arctic fox in the Finnish Lapland. In fact the last time a nest from Arctic fox with puppies was found in Finland was in 1996 in Utsjoki in the very far north of Finland. The Arctic fox lives in the Norwegian fells on the other side of the Finnish border. In 2014 Metsähallitus checked on 213 nests from Arctic fox, but they did not find any marks of recent activity in them. Metsähallitus has registered 334 old nests from Arctic Fox of which 100 are in such bad shape they are not checked every year anymore.
Species of the Arctic fox were seen in Enontekiö and Utsjoki during last winter. About 100 years ago the Arctic fox was common in these areas, but has decreased dramatically since then. The reason for this has not really been found out.
WWF (World Wildlife Fund) works to make sure fragile ecosystems are supported and protected. They mitigate the effects of climate change to make sure the survival of the Arctic fox and other species.Temperatures in the Arctic are rising at twice the rate of the rest of the world. Warming temperatures are linked to many changes in the Arctic, including reduced sea ice, melting permafrost and rising sea levels and that could be one of the reasons the Arctic fox is moving north to the other side of the border from Finnish Lapland.
The Arctic fox can be seen in the Ranua Wildlife Park, Ranua Zoo.

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The brown bears in Ranua Wildlife Park love attention

After the hibernation the brown bears of Ranua Wildlife park just love to meet the visitors and get attention from people. On days with only a few visitors they are just bored. I went to the park early in the morning and made a round to the brown bears to check on how Jemma, the brown bear cub, among others is doing after the hibernation. She was just fine, sucking her paws and making a strange noise, like from a content cat. I was the only visitor at the cage and I could very well listen to her “humming”. But no other action was made from her side as long as I stayed there.

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After a short break at the hootchie with some fried sausages and sandwiches, I returned to the brown bear area. The igloo bar was not open, even if a sign at the entrance says it is open daily 11-15.00…

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At this time some groups of tourists had arrived to the park. They were also looking at the brown bears. Apparently the guide had told them to loudly applaud the bears and get their attention, as this had the effect on the bears they started to play and make funny movements. I joined one group and got the chance to see how the bears acted i front of a group and could compare it to how they acted when I was alone.

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Jemma’s mother, Malla, has learned to keep her back-paws and show it to the crowd. She got reworded for that with an apple or a carrot from the nice guide in the group. She continues showing her skills on and on until the guide tells her, this is enough, see you again tomorrow! I could see the bears very acquainted with this guide and she also told her group she used to visit here since she was 15 years old and now, as a guide, she returns regularly three times a week to see the animals.

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Next to Malla was also “the old man himself”, Palle-Jooseppi, the brown bear, almost 30 years old already. He was found in the wood abandoned as a little baby bear and brought to the zoo. He is a bit lazy and like to relax a lot, but he does not say no to an apple or two. He woke up on the call from the guide and took the position. He caught all the apples right in his mouth. And the tourists applauded his skills. He listens to the guide and rises his paws when asked to.

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Malla and Palle-Jooseppi live together in the same cage. It is a very large area. At the moment they do not seem to be interested in one another at all and spend time far away from each other. But hopefully the interest will wake up and they will make some baby bears next winter. Malla gave birth to little Jemma last winter, but unfortunately she abandoned the cub as they got out from the den together. For security reasons the staff then took the cub from its mother and placed it alone in a separate cage. A grown up mummy bear could even kill her cub if she does not like it.
Jemma’s father Jehu managed to escape from the zoo last winter and the staff did not see any other options, but to shoot him. He could become dangerous to the surrounding inhabitants of Ranua. And so, little Jemma spends time alone in the cage without a mother or a father. No wonder she has developed this habit sucking her paws and making the noise. The same noise is made by the cubs as the mother bear suckle them in the den. I feel so sad for Jemma.
Well, Jemma is used to people and wants their attention. She stood up in front of the group and danced and got rewarded with apples and carrots. That made her day, but also the tourists were overwhelmed.

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After that I did a short check on the other animals.

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As I drove back home to Rovaniemi, along the road the birches were “screaming”, “help us, oh Mighty Sun, to be released from this burden of snow!” “Send your warm rays and melt the snow around our crowns so we can stand up again!”
I love winter and snow, but spring is also a lovely time of the year, when nature wakes up again and birds return to the north from their resorts in the south during the coldest time of the year.

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The wolf is an endangered animal in Lapland

In Finland there are four large carnivores; bear, lynx, wolverine and wolf. I have written posts about bears, lynxes and wolverines here in my blog earlier. Now I want to tell you about the wolf in Finland and specially in Lapland. The wolf is the second largest carnivore after the bear in Finland.

The wolves (Canis lupus) are social members of the dog family and live many together in packs. They have excellent senses of hearing and smell, and can communicate using posture, facial expressions, scent and a variety of barking and howling calls. The howling call of a wolf in the night is impressive and is started by a single wolf, who may then be joined by a chorus. Wolves howl to communicate with each other and to define their territories. The chances to hear wolves howling in Lapland are really small. As you enter the cave and walk your way down to SantaPark you can hear wolves howling from the loudspeakers….

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Twolfwalkhey mainly move around during the twilight hours and they can move over distances of tens of kilometers in a single day. An old traditional story tells that a wolf could move over nine treeless bogs (valleys) in one night. In a pack only the dominant alpha pair actually breed, but the pack help to raise the cubs. Three to six cubs are born to a pack each year. Females become sexually mature at the age of about two years, while males typically mature a year later. Wolves mate in February or March, and their cubs are born a couple of months later. Cubs usually leave the pack at the age of 1-2 years. They go far away from their birthplace searching for a mate and a territory of their own.

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In Finland there is approx. 140-155 wolves at the moment. They were counted in February 2014. Most of the wolves live in the eastern parts of Finland. About 5-10 wolves were found in the Lappish area; that is a few more than last year. The wolf is an endangered species in Finland and hunting is prohibited since 1973. Hunting is a subject to licence only.

Wolf is the largest member of the dog family living in wilderness. The length of the body is 100-140 cm, the tail is 35-50 cm. Weight is usually 20-50 kg, but there has been found also bigger individuals. The male wolf is lager than the female.

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susi_kayntijaljetThe coat is mainly yellowish-grey, but there are variations. People often mistake big dogs for wolves, and wolves can be most easily distinguished from wolf-like dogs by their slanting eyes – if you come so near you can see the eyes – and the way they hold their tails at a downward angle. Their tracks are very hard to tell apart from dogs’ tracks. Wolves often walk straight, while dogs tend to wander more. The wolves’ footprints are often larger than the footprint of dogs.

Wolves hunt deer and elk and in Lapland reindeer. They hunt in packs. They kill and eat almost every part of the kill; they even biting larger bones into pieces and all that is left could be a few scraps of the skin. They sometimes hide their kill.

susi ulvooIn Finland you can see wolves in Ranua zoo and in Ähtäri zoo. To keep wolves in a zoo there need to be a large area for the wolves to move around in. In Ranua zoo there are three wolves at the moment. They were all born in the zoo in 2009. The parents, the alpha pair, were Leena ja Ville. They were brought to Ranua from Sweden in 2006 and 2007. Their first brood – in 2008- were four cubs; Halla, Huurre, Kuura ja Halti. Their second brood, in 2009, were also four cubs. At the moment there are three wolves in Ranua zoo. I have to find out their names.

The wolf has never been really wanted in Finland. In the Sami language the wolf is gumpe. The Sami people were afraid of the wolf and still are, due to that the wolves kill their reindeer. The ancient story about wolves tells that the wolves had the magic skills to make people sleepy. The Sami people use to yoik as they are watching the reindeer. Their yoiks are about the nature, people and animals. The wolves are frightened as they come near the people and the reindeer, when they hear the yoik. But soon they get used to the yoik and the Sami has to sing a new yoik. They have to come up with new yoiks all the time to keep the wolves away from the reindeer.

A long time ago the wolf was also a valued animal. There is an old yoik about the wolf Suologievra. The name means “the strong on the island”. In the ancient days people used to think the world was like an island in a big sea.

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Once upon a time Stuorra-Jownna, or Jouni the Great from Utsjoki in the North of Lapland wanted to become a wolf. The witches had told that, if you go around a curved tree counterclockwise several times you finally become a wolf. So did Jouni. He walked around the tree until he was changed into a wolf. Then he run around in the shape of a wolf and he visited many reindeer ranges. He could stay as a wolf for two weeks at a time. One day he noticed his time was ending; actually on the same night, and he still had nine valleys ahead to run. If he could not make it to the tree in time, he would be doomed to stay as a wolf for the rest of his life. There is an old saying: “The wolf always finds his way”. And that night he run over nine valleys and reached the tree, where he had changed into a wolf, in time. This time he run around the tree clockwise and during the run he little by little changed back into a human being.

 

Winter swimming

These days, on March 20-23, the Winter Swimming World Championship is held in Rovaniemi with 1,244 swimmers from 34 countries. There has been huge preparations on the shore of river Kemijoki in the city center of Rovaniemi for several weeks already. The Finns are keen on winter swimming, so this event suits very well to take part in Finland this year.

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In the ice on river Kemijoki there has been made a hole, 25 meters long with 9 lanes. The last few nights have been really cold with temperatures around -22 degrees Celsius (-7,6 F), and to keep the hole from freezing there have been pumps working days and nights. Around the “swimming stadium” pupils from the University of Lapland, the Faculty of Art and Design, have created sculptures fitting into the atmosphere of the Championships.

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This snowman was constantly surrounded by excited visitors of the games, who wanted photos taken together with him for memories to bring home with them. It was hard to get a picture of him without any people. The mascot of Ranua zoo, Jonne the Polar bear, was of course also visiting this event and anyone, who wanted a hug from him, got one.

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To get from the city center to the “swim stadium” you have to either walk the 850 meters along the Lumberjack Candle bridge, or take the snowmobile taxi arranged by Lapland safaris, that was driving non-stop between the city center and the stadium.

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Today on the first day of the competitions the Endurance swim 450 meters for men and women took place. Here are the starting lists for those, who are interested. The swimmers were aged 50-69 years. A lot of brave people, if you ask me! To go into the ice-cold water with only your swimsuit on and then swim 450 meters is really an effort and it tests your body’s tolerance to 100 %. Except for the swimsuit swimmers must wear something on their head, either a swimming cap or a woolen or other warm hat.

The competitors undressed by the pool and climbed into the water. Diving was prohibited.

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During the first run one of the competitors had a heart attack and divers had to bring him up from the water and they gave him first aid and an ambulance took him to the hospital for a check up. After this dramatic start the competition went on smoothly and swimmers who felt they wanted to end their run because they were not feeling well, were greeted by the audience and thanked with applauds for they braveness. No-one had to feel like a looser if he or she could not finish the run. All competitors are really experienced winter swimmers and all are winners and we all have our better or worse days.

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After the race the swimmers could immediately go into the sauna or to the hot tubs near the pool. There were a lot of staff helping the swimmers to get a warm blanket and their shoes on. Many of the competitors really did not matter about the cold outside, even though the audience were trying to keep warm by jumping up and down. This day’s amazing sun-shine did help the audience to keep warm, though.

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The area around the stadium has activities, product presentations and shopping possibilities as well as restaurant services and tourist information. The competitions continue tomorrow. The weather forecast are unfortunately not as good as they were today. Anyway, I think the arrangements around the IX Winter Swimming World Championship are really successful so far.

 

Rovaniemi

Detailed 5 day forecast

It happens a lot in Ranua zoo in winter time

News about a new-born brown bear cub was told from Ranua zoo in the beginning of March. As predicted last spring, the brown bear Malla gave birth on January 8th, 2014. She stayed in her den for the hibernation period and breast-feeding the new-born female cub until March 31st, when the door was opened for her to come out. The zoo had put up cameras in the den so the birth late in the evening of January 8th could be seen by the staff in the next morning. This video is shown to all visitors to Ranua zoo as they arrive in the ticket office these days.

On March 31st Malla and the cub came out through the door and the cub met the world outside the den for the first time. The surrounding was all snow and the cub seemed a little anxious and it made a lot of voices. The video of the little cub can be seen here. Malla and her cub were kept in a smaller fence while the male bears Jehu and Palle-Jooseppi were out in a bigger fence. Malla also wanted out to the bigger fence and as she was let out there it happened she was stressed of the situation and abandoned her cub and run out and did not show any interest towards the cub any more. She acted even aggressively towards her cub and the staff at the zoo found it best to take the cub from her, for the safety of the cub. So at the moment the cub is fed by the staff of the zoo and will not be brought back to the mum any more. The mother will not recognize her own cub anymore and she will act aggressively towards a stranger. A name competition will be arranged on the home page of Ranua wildlife park to find a name for the little female bear. If everything works out fine, the cub can probably be seen in the zoo in the beginning of summer. These abandoning behaviors happened either because Malla was an unexperienced mother or due to other stress factors. In the nature she could even kill her cub, but that is now prevented by the decision to take the cub from her. Let us see how this will work out.

The father Jehu has woken up from the hibernation already and was anxiously waiting outside the den for Malla and the cub to come out to him***.

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It is amazing how tiny a brown bear cub is at birth. You may think a big bear could give birth to a much bigger cub, but the newborn is really tiny and spends many weeks on mummy’s stomach, where it gets breast-fed, and kept warm in the warm fur of mummy. In the blog from Ranua zoo you can see for yourself the amazing video from the birth of the brown bear cub and also how it has grown during the first month. It is impossible to decide the sex of the cub until it comes out from the den.

In the wolverine fence you also find only the father Rasputin running around. The female wolverine Batsi has actually also given birth to two tiny wolverine cubs and is spending time with them inside an underground den breast-feeding. The wolverine cubs were born during the weekend on March 8-9 and were caught by a camera. The cubs weight around 100 g each. In the nature the wolverine gives birth inside a cavern made of snow. Last time there were wolverine cubs in Ranua was over 10 years ago, in 2003, so this is a very special moment and predicts a busy summer with a lot of interested visitors for the wildlife park.

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Another thing that happens in the near future at Ranua zoo is that the two years old polar bear Ranzo is going to leave the zoo and move to the zoo Schönbrunn in Vienna, Austria, in the beginning of May. In the zoo Schönbrunn they are building a new Polar bear world, Franz Josef Land, which will open in April. Ranzo will meet an adorable Polar bear girl, Lynn, also 2 years old, and they will hopefully be parents next year. Ranzo’s move to Vienna is quite natural, as his grandmother, Vienna, was born there. So he returns to his roots, so to say. Still Ranzo is happily unknown of his coming destiny playing with his toys in Ranua zoo.

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This picture is of Ranzo and his mother last spring. IMG_1828

At the moment Ranzo is alone in his fence, while his mother Venus has moved over to his father Manasse’s fence and they are enjoying each others’ company at the moment. New polar bear cubs are of course expected next winter from these meetings. You can look at a video from their meetings also from the blog.

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*** Unfortunately the brown bear Jehu found a way out from his fence to the freedom in the end of April 2014. The staff of the zoo has a special security plan for incidences like this regarding brown bears’, polar bears’ and muskoxes’ escapes and the only thing was to shoot the Jehu bear, to avoid danger to people outside the zoo. The brown bear Jehu never met the new cub.

 

Ranua zoo in winter

On a sunny day in winter a visit to Ranua zoo is really worth the effort. There are active arctic animals playing in the snow, not the least the polar bears, the wolverines, the wild boars, the wolves and the lynxes, which all are active winter animals. The snow makes it easy to find the animals; they have fewer possibilities to hide in a white surrounding. They seem to enjoy the sun in winter as much as we do.

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The brown bears are having their hibernating period and are sleeping. About two years ago there was a warm and sunny spring and the brown bears woke up on March 1st and started to play in the snow. Usually they wake up in the end of March. There is still snow on the ground in the end of March. This year I am very excited waiting for news about whether the brown bear Malla has given birth during the winter hibernation. The zoo is keeping an eye on the den where the brown bears are sleeping. Small brown bear cubs would really be a reason to visit the zoo again.

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The zoo has plans to put together the two polar bear adults again if there could be more polar bear cubs. The very popular polar bear cub Ranzo, born in December 2011, is already a grown up and will probably be moved to another zoo in the near future. Ranua zoo simply does not have fences enough for many adult polar bears. Wild animals, like bears, are not very satisfied to share fences with others. There have been some disputes between bears in the earlier years, which have led to even one of the bear’s death, and this the zoo definitively does not want to happen.

You can get a whole new viewpoint to the animals by participating in the animal feeding shows, such as, by watching carnivores being fed. If you are lucky, you might get to feed animals yourself, instructed and monitored by the animal keepers. During the winter, between 17.2.2014 -9.3.2014 and 18.4.2014 – 21.4.2014, animal feeding shows are arranged daily. Check out the times on the home page. I do hope they will soon update it with this year’s dates….

There is also possible to stay overnight near the zoo, in the holiday village Gulo Gulo or at the caravan area. Check the homepage for more information.

In Finland there are three zoos open during winter time; Ranua zoo, Ähtäri zoo in the middle of Finland and Korkeasaari zoo in Helsinki.

 

The most popular animal of Ranua Zoo, Väinö the lynx

The reader of my blog might have noticed I am specially found of the polar bear cub Ranzo in the Wildlife Park Ranua Zoo. I try to visit Ranua Zoo several times a year to check out arctic animals. During a visit there in winter time you will notice many of the animals are more active than what they are in summer time, when they mostly are sleeping in the sun. (This is not of course the fact about brown bears, because they are having their hibernation period.)

The Wildlife Park Ranua Zoo is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and that caused them to arrange a voting for the most popular animal of the park during the 30 year period. The winner was Väinö the lynx. Cause of the huge interest the ice bear cub Ranzo has caused the last two years, you could think he would win the vote, but Väinö the lynx has apparently made a greater impact on visitors. The competition was tight, with polar bear Ranzo coming a close second.

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So who was Väinö the lynx? Väinö the lynx appeared in the Finnish film “Tommy and the Wildcat”, know to the Finnish people as “Poika ja ilves”. The film was cast in Ranua and in Korouoma canyon in the year 1998 and was very popular to the audience and received many prices also in international Film Festivals. Director of the film is Raimo O Niemi.

Väinö the lynx was born in 1996 and died in May 1998 in an accident as he tried to climb a fence and fell down. He was used to people from the age of a little cub. Väinö was brought to the Wildlife Park Ranua Zoo as he had been abandoned by his mother and he was adopted by the park keepers and they begun to feed him with a nursing bottle. He used to spend time in the ticket office of Ranua Zoo and visitors could often see him sleeping on a shelf there, as they entered the park.

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During the autumn shooting, Väinö remained the only wildcat on the set, but for the winter scenes they began looking for “stand – by” wildcats for Väinö’s stunts at an early stage. Fortunately, a pair of twin wildcats, Isa and Bella, were born at Parken Zoo in Sweden in summer 1997. They shared the same fate as Väinö and were abandoned by their mother. Animal trainer Elisabet Jonsson, who had a wide range of experience in training animals, reared the wildcats. She had, for instance, trained tigers, leopards and other wildcats. Hence, we hired Elisabet to train Isa and Bella for Väinö’s winter stunt scenes.

The film “Tommy and the Wildcat” tells about how 12-year-old Tommy reluctantly moves with his father from the big city to a small Lapp village – the childhood home of his mother, who has recently died. The village is close to the northernmost wildlife reserve in the world, where Tommy’s father will be working on a project to release a captive lynx into the wild. The boy gradually falls under the spell of his new surroundings, and discovers that his mother was involved in protecting the local lynx, and, when his father’s project fails, and the lynx is about to be sold, he decides to set it free himself. A dramatic series of events ensues, and Tommy, through his brave actions, regains the trust and respect of his family and the village.

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During the shooting of the film the film team soon learnt that they were not dealing with “Lassie” or “Rintintin” in front of the camera. Anyone who has any knowledge of cats knows that you cannot order them around.

Konsta Hietanen played the main part in the film. Väinö and Konsta got along famously from the start. Konsta soon learnt to trust that Väinö didn’t regard him as a potential snack. However, Konsta was reminded that you can never fully trust a wild animal.

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For the shooting, Väinö had to become accustomed to noise and a lot of people around him, not to mention riding in a car  –  or on a snow mobile! The director’s order for silence during the shooting was diligently obeyed: since the wildcat was usually able to concentrate for only about half an hour at a time, the film crew had to be particularly efficient when the wildcat was in a cooperative mood. The crew was kept to a minimum while shooting the wildcat, because Väinö always had to sniff everyone around him to learn that they were friendly.

The first thing to keep in mind was that you can’t give orders to a wildcat or force it to do what people want, but through games and playing you could achieve what was desired. Most probably the film’s wildcats had a great time during the shooting of the film: they got to play all kinds of games, the people around them were calm and the wildcats received lots and lots of attention  –  which is, after all, what all cats thrive on. One might even write in the end titles of the film that “The wildcats appearing in Tommy and the Wildcat had heaps of fun.” In first, the most difficult thing was to make the wildcats look dangerous or aggressive. Under no circumstances did we want to arouse the wildcats’ wilder instincts.

The producer Hannu Tuomainen tells that as the film had been completed they could proudly state that the scenes with animals in them were for real, they have not been created with computer animations.

Specially one scene, “Chicken the Brave” was challenging. They made use of Väinö’s apparent interest towards the larger fowl in the wildlife park when the wildcat’s interest in acting flopped. The scene was a source of amazement for Väinö. However, Väinö’s hunting skills remained dormant: while filming in the studio Väinö and the chicken suddenly disappeared while everyone’s attention was elsewhere. Our first thought was that Väinö had eaten “Chicken the Brave”. However, after a while, they were found behind a cupboard sitting side by side. They were just taking a break and having a “chat”.

Finally, some facts about the animal lynx:

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Lynx (Lynx lynx)

  • Classification: mammals
  • Division: predators
  • Species: cats
  • Length: 70 – 140 cm, tail 15 – 25 cm
  • Weight: 8 – 26 kg, male larger than female
  • Life expectancy: 14 – 17 years
  • Under Threat: rare species, to be monitored
  • Population in Finland: about 750

 

Wolverine – a threat to reindeer herding in Lapland?

There are four large carnivores living in Finland: bear, lynx, wolf and wolverine. These are threats to the reindeer herding in Lapland. Every year a large amount of the Lappish reindeer become victims of these carnivores. And every year a large amount of money is paid by the government of Finland for losses on the reindeer herds in Lapland.

A Government decree on the payment of compensation for damage caused by carnivores came into force in Finland in 2000, stating that payments should be made from budgeted government funds for damage caused by bears, wolves, lynxes or wolverines to people, traffic, farmland, livestock, reindeer, pets or property. Last year, in 2013, the amount of damage compensation for damages caused by carnivores in Finland was about 8,5 million euro. 94 % of the damages was made by wolverines. There has been a huge increase in the last years.

The Finnish Forest and Park Service (Metsähallitus) explains why it is important for nature to have these carnivores on the page telling about the Finnish carnivores:

“Large carnivores are a valuable and integral part of the natural environment in Finland. In ecological terms, large carnivores play a vital regulatory role maintaining the natural balance in ecosystems. Large carnivores have evolved to keep the populations of larger herbivorous mammals in check. They also generally tend to prey on weaker individuals, thereby improving the genetic stock of their prey species through the processes of natural selection.”

IMG_0535I use to visit the Ranua zoo regularly because I am fascinated by the sight of these animals. In Ranua zoo they have individuals representing all these four carnivores. My dilemma is that I am also very found of reindeer, and the fact that reindeer often become victims to all these carnivores is just breaking my heart. It is hard to understand why a little animal like the wolverine has to kill a big reindeer to get food, as it does not even eat it up but leaves the carcass after having a bite; preferably the heart of the reindeer. The wolverine jumps up on the back of the reindeer and with a bite in the neck it kills or at least paralyses the reindeer. A small animal could, in my opinion, survive eating smaller species from the Lapland nature like lemmings and sorks. Sometimes they do store their pray and return to eat from the same carcass.

Reindeer are easy prey for the wolverine to kill (in winter the wolverine mainly lives on reindeer), to tear up into pieces and hide for a “rainy day”. The wolverine does not sink into soft snow nearly as much as a reindeer does. The weight of a reindeer per cm² of its base is 8 – 10 times that of a wolverine. The wolverine does not always kill reindeer for food, but does it for “fun”, too. To read more about reindeer herding and predators, visit the site of the Reindeer Herders’ Association.

IMG_7086In the wilderness of Lapland I have once seen a wolverine (Gulo gulo). It looked so small and neat to my eyes. We were out icefishing in the Upper North of Finland and suddenly it appeared on the ice of the river. Even if it is said they have an excellent sense of smell, it did not recognize us and we followed its movements from a distance of approx 75-100 meters for quite a long time until it disappeared again behind some fell birches. After that I walked to the place where the wolverine had left some footprints. This was a very small wolverine, perhaps only a young wolverine or a female. The male wolverine grows to approx. 28 kg and the female to approx 12 kg. The length varies from 69 to 83 cm.

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Wolverines’ fur is generally dark brown,  but some individuals are paler brown or blackish. Their tracks are surprisingly large, and resemble the footprints of a small bear. Their large paws enable them to move around in the snow easily without sinking into drifts. Wolverines most commonly move in leaps and bounds, leaving their tracks in pairs or groups of three.

Today wolverines mainly occur in the open fell regions of northern Fennoscandia, and nearby coniferous forests. The most growing population lives in the border regions between northern Sweden and Norway. In Finland the approx amount of wolverines is 230-250 specimen.
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Here is a map of Finland indicating the amount of wolverines in 2008. Darker regions in the map show high number of observations and on the lighter regions amount of sightings is lower. The Upper North of Finland as I call it is in the so-called “arm” of Finland.
The Wolverine has been an endangered species in Finland for the last 30 years and the Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute supervised between 1984 and 1998 the introduction of about 20 wolverines into parts of their former ranges around Finland. Wolverines have been removed from areas where reindeer are raised, and introduced into parts of Central and Western Finland. The wolverine population now thriving in Ostrobothnia and northern parts of the province of Central Finland is largely the result of such introductions.

However, the population of wolverines in regions where reindeer are raised has increased from 40 specimen in 1980 to 180 in 2010, and the Government has to take into consideration giving permissions to the Lappish people to hunt the wolverine again. It is a protected specimen and hunting is not allowed at the moment. 

 

Expecting brown bear cubs in Ranua Wildlife Park?

I use to visit the Ranua zoo several times a year. I love to see the animals and their actions at different times of the year. In winter there are many active animals in the zoo, because this is an arctic animal zoo with animals from the region of Lapland, and so they are used to winter. During the winter the animals are more active while they during the summer season often are feeling a little dizzy because of the heat during the days and are mostly resting during the visitors’ time.

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When I visit the zoo during the winter seasons one animal is not to be seen at all. That is the brown bear. The brown bears in the nature are sleeping winter hibernation during the winter, and so are the brown bears in Ranua zoo. They use to go to sleep in November and wake up in the beginning of March. This year the brown bears woke up already in February. The staff in the zoo thinks the early wake-up is caused by the big amount of visitors who came to look at the polar bear cub, Ranzo, and the noise spread in to the dens of the brown bears. Read more about Ranzo in my post about the polar bears. Here is a link from Jehu’s first meeting with the snow in 2011.

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I visited the zoo in the beginning of May. At the moment there are three brown bears living in Ranua. They are the old Palle-Jooseppi and his son Jehu, 3 years old. Last spring Jehu got a girlfriend from another zoo in Finland, the Ähtäri zoo, and her name is Malla. Malla is four years old at the moment. The brown bears get sexually mature at the age of 4-5 years, so the expectations are high there would be one or two cubs in the den next spring when the bears wake up. The cubs are born in January-February. Here is the you tube-link from Malla’s first day in Ranua zoo last spring.

IMG_2777The possibilities for cubs in Ranua zoo next spring are quite high while Jehu and Malla spend a lot of time together and seem to get along quite well. Jehu is at the moment the last brown bear born in this zoo. His mother, Doris, got sick and had to be put to sleep a couple of years ago. After Doris was gone a new female bear, also named Malla, was brought to the zoo. The staff wanted Malla and Palle-Jooseppi to get acquainted to each other and the two bears were put together in the same cage. But it turned out something about Malla irritated Palle-Jooseppi and he hit her and then caused her death.

Last spring as the new Malla-bear was brought to the zoo she was put together with Jehu immediately. She, however, got a bit scared of Jehu’s interest, so the staff had to put Jehu away for a while to “cool down”. But at the moment there are no problem whatsoever and the two young bears seem to get very well together, while Palle-Jooseppi spends his time alone in his own cage.

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The brown bear lives in the forests and mountains of northern North America, Europe, and Asia. The Finnish brown bear lives mainly in conifer forests. The brown bear, which is active during twilight, can also be seen searching for food during the day. Brown bears are usually solitary. The male and the female spend time together during mating season in the summer, and the mother usually lives with its growing cubs until the next cub is born. The female bear gives birth to new cubs approx. every three-year.

Adult brown bears are powerful, top-of-the-food chain predators, but much of their diet consists of nuts, berries, fruit, leaves, and roots. Bears also eat other animals, from rodents to moose. Last week there was a killed reindeer found just about a kilometer from the Santa Claus’ village outside Rovaniemi, most certainly killed by a bear. There is at the moment not so much other food to eat in the forest, unfortunately.

Despite their enormous size, brown bears are extremely fast, having been clocked at speeds of 30 miles per hour (48 kilometers per hour). They can be dangerous to humans, particularly if surprised or if a person gets between a mother bear and her cubs. Almost every year there are reports of bears seen too near habitations in the eastern parts of Finland. People have all reasons to be careful when they see a bear, even though the bears are very neat to look at and every child probably has a beloved teddy bear at home in their bed.

The bears could live to 25 years of age. The adult bears are 5 to 8 ft (1.5 to 2.5 m) tall and weight 700 lbs (318 kg). The male bear is bigger than the female bear.