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  • Arctic Animals

    Nature is always near when you are in Hetta or in its surrounding area. Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) are obviously the most common mammals in the area but squirrels, hares and foxes are also very common – we have fox living just meters from our house, in between the house and farm. From time to time we spot moose / elk (Alces alces), roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) and dwarf deer on the roads or forests. (Thanks to winter feeding by locals the roe deer’s population has grown.)

    Other animals that thrive in the area are the otter (Lutra lutra), the stoat (Mustela erminea), the least weasel (Mustela rixosa), the pine-marten (Martes martes), the American mink (Mustela vison), the muskrat (Ondatra zibethica) and many types of moles and shrews. Some years we seem to be inundated by Lemmings in the Spring (Lemmus lemmus). Frogs and lizards are common in the area but there are no viper snakes in the Hetta Area, as their northern-most habitat is at the Hannukuru-Pahakuru Ravines in Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park.

    In Finland there are four large carnivores; bear, lynx, wolverine and wolf. We have bear hibernating just 2km from our farm. However, it is extremely unlikely that you will catch a glimpse of a bear, wolverine, wolf, lynx or arctic fox. The arctic fox is near endangered and most wolves are sensible enough to keep themselves in the remote areas although in 2009 we had to protect the dogs from marauding wolves for a number of weeks.

    Wolves
    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.

    They 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.

    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.

    The 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.

    The 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.

    The wolf has never been really wanted in Finland. In the Sami language the wolf isgumpe.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 valuedanimal. There is an old yoik about the wolfSuologievra.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.

    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.

    Wolverine
    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.”

    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 cm²of 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.

    Wolverine fur is generally dark brown, but some individuals are paler brown or blackish. Theirtracks 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.

    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 theFinnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute supervised between 1984 and 1998the 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. You can find out more, here