Elks in Finland: Danger in the early summer roads

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As we move towards the summer, the sun is shining more and the temperatures keep rising. This means that Finns are going around more. Many head to the countryside to their summer houses. You may also feel the need to start exploring the country. Before you jump behind the steering wheel, though, you might want to read this word of warning. Elks in Finland pose a serious threat to drivers.

Elks in Finland

Elk (Alces alces), or moose as they are called in American English, is the largest of our animals. There are elks all over Finland, but southern and southwestern Finland are environmentally best for elks. There the snow cover stays relatively modest and the growing season is the longest. Also, in southern and southwestern Finland there are hardly any large predators that would threaten elks.

Elk density in Finland in 2018 (animals/1000 ha land) (Source: Luke)

About a hundred years ago there weren’t that many elks in Finland. The number of elks grew significantly after the second world war. These days elks are counted in the tens of thousands. Approximately 50-60 000 elks are hunted in Finland every year.

In addition to elk, there’s also the possibility to encounter European roe deer (Capreolus caprelous, metsäkauris in Finnish), fallow deer (Dama dama, kuusipeura in Finnish), or white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virgianus, valkohäntäpeura in Finnish) while driving. In fact, if you ever hint an animal with your car chances are it’s a white-tailed deer.

Thinking about buying a car in Finland? In our “Four Wheels in Finland” online course we tell you what to expect when buying, owning, and driving a car in Finland.

Wildlife collisions in Finland

In 2019, there were 13 433 collisions with wildlife on Finnish roads. Most often these collisions happen with white-taled deer. In 2019, there were 6507 collisions involving a white-tailed deer. With elk, drivers collided with 2009 times in 2019.

Source for the statistics: Statistics Finland

Most of the collisions occurred in Varsinais-Suomi, Uusimaa, and Pirkanmaa regions. Over half of all wildlife collisions occurred in these regions. 20 % of all wildlife collisions occurred in Satakunta and Kanta-Häme regions. This YLE article has a great map showing all elk collisions in 2017 and 2018.

Wild boars, white-tailed deers, and roe deers are rather small. Elks instead are enormous animals. A full-grown elk bull can weigh up to 700 kg and be up to 220 cm tall as measured at the withers. Total height can reach 3 m. Imagine hitting this while you are driving 80 km/h or faster.

So, why are we bringing this up right now? Elk collisions, after all, are more common in the fall. That’s because around May and June elk females give birth to new calves and before they do that, they drive away their previous year’s offspring. These newly separated and slightly confused elks wander around and can cause accidents.

How to avoid a collision with an elk

You should be extra vigilant when driving just before sunrise or just after sunset. Keep one eye on the side of the road, especially if there are bushes very close to the side of the road. An elk can suddenly appear from behind a bush.

When you see elk warning signs along the roads, take those seriously. They have been erected in places that are known crossing places for elks. So slow down. At lower speeds the risk of collisions goes down as does the risk of dying in such a collision. If an elk does cross the road in front of you, try to steer your car behind it because once an elk starts to cross the road, it very rarely turns back.

Special note for drivers in Uusimaa and Ostrobothnia regions: Roe deer give birth to their calves in May and June, and most of the collisions with roe deer happen then. Collisions with white-tail deer occur mostly in the fall as the first image of this blog shows. These collisions are concentrated in southwestern Finland.

Finns have a habit of warning other drivers of elks or deer they’ve seen on the road or on the side of the road. If an oncoming car flashes its headlights at you, there are usually only two possible reasons for this: either you don’t have your headlights on or the driver is warning you that there are elks or deer ahead. Slow down, check your lights, and pay attention to the road and the roadsides ahead of you!

Learn more about buying, owning, and driving a car in Finland from our course Four Wheels in Finland.

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This post was edited and republished on May 22, 2020.

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