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.

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.