Are reindeer and elk the same

Moose and reindeer

Moose or reindeer? The differences

The most noticeable difference between the two species of deer is simply the size. A fully grown male moose (Alces alces) can reach a shoulder height of 2.3 meters and weigh up to 800 kilograms - as much as the average small car. However, this is more true of the American elk branch.

In Europe the animals are a bit smaller - but bull elk can weigh in at least 500 kilos. The elk cow is basically smaller and correspondingly lighter. Nevertheless, in most cases it is even larger than a reindeer (Rangifer tarandus): Reindeer can only grow up to 1.40 meters high and weigh a maximum of 300 kilograms.

But when the elk and reindeer are not standing next to each other, this comparison is difficult. The fur doesn't necessarily make things any easier either: moose are gray to dark brown, reindeer are light to dark brown. However, at least the European moose have eye-catching legs: The fur of the legs is rather light gray, which makes the animals look "stockinged".

The best way to tell the difference between moose and reindeer is by looking at the antlers - unless they have just thrown it off and have to grow a new one: Male moose wear powerful shovel antlers that can reach a diameter of up to two meters. There are several small extensions on the outside of the flat blades. In contrast to the female reindeer, the elk cows do not have any antlers.

Reindeer have rod-shaped, widely branched antlers, the shapes of which are very irregular. Unusual for a species of deer: the female reindeer also have antlers, although at 20 to 50 centimeters it is significantly smaller than the deer.

Sweden's national animal: the moose

The big loners love the cool north and swampy soils. In search of food, they roam the boggy areas of the taiga and forest tundra. They are mostly on the move alone or in small family groups. The territory of an elk can cover up to 500 hectares - and this territory is very consistently defended against intruders.

The vegetation would hardly be sufficient for entire herds - the large animals feed mainly on the shoots and buds of wooden plants such as willow, alder, pine and birch, but bark and aquatic plants are also on the menu.

To the chagrin of farmers and residents in areas with many elks, the animals also attack fields and gardens. Because moose have a particular fondness for apples, they wreak havoc in some gardens.

Sweden's national animal or not - of the estimated 300,000 to 400,000 animals in the country, around a quarter are shot every year, and all of this legally. After the moose were almost extinct in the 19th century, their population has recovered splendidly - and promptly causes problems.

The elk and his enemies

In the wild, predators such as bears and wolves can be particularly dangerous to the elk. The elk does have some unbeatable advantages: it can run at speeds of up to 60 kilometers per hour and with its long legs it is excellent for walking through deep snow or overcoming obstacles, which makes tracking much more difficult. Weak, sick and old animals, however, have a bad chance against predators.

The second deadly enemy of the elk is humans, on the one hand through hunting and on the other hand through car traffic. When the animals become active at dusk and cross roads in the process, thousands of accidents, some of them serious, occur every year in Sweden alone. Most of the time, the moose appear very suddenly and are difficult to see at dusk due to their fur color.

The government is trying to cope with the problem with warning signs and wild fences. Rule of thumb: if an elk suddenly crosses the street, caution is advised, because another often follows, for example when mother and calf are on their way. It is also highly recommended that you pay attention to the moose warning signs, which, to the chagrin of the Swedes, are a popular collector's item among tourists.

Face to face with the moose

Anyone traveling to Sweden should definitely see moose, but don't expect to see you right away. Moose are shy animals that tend to run away at the sight of people. During the rutting season, however, the moose can become extremely aggressive. The same applies to elk cows who want to protect their calves. Anyone who goes in search of elk in the wild or who happens to come across an elk should therefore be careful and keep a proper distance.

For those who prefer it safe and want a moose guarantee, we recommend a visit to one of Sweden's many moose parks. Guided tours are offered in the parks, and in some it is also possible to scratch a moose.


Reindeer are extremely sociable. In contrast to their big relatives, the elks, they live in huge herds in the fell, the high mountains and plateaus above the tree line. In this cool and barren habitat the reindeer find their food - grasses, lichens, mushrooms, leaves and bark. They cover several thousand kilometers in search of food and on the way from their summer to winter pastures, whereby the good swimmers can also cross rivers and even inlets.

There are only a few real wild reindeer in Scandinavia: the huge herds of reindeer that cross the country are mostly domesticated animals, many of which are traditionally kept by the Sami people. The domesticated animals still roam freely in large herds - people follow their rhythm and their routes.

Today, however, the Sami also use modern aids for their herds' extensive migrations: They follow the reindeer with snowmobiles, and for the annual count the animals are also herded together by helicopter.

The reindeer as an economic factor

Humans have been using reindeer for thousands of years. To date, these animals are the only domesticated deer species. Reindeer products are mainly milk, fur and lean meat, which are reasonably priced.

Around a third of the animals are shot for this purpose every year. However, the reindeer are not endangered: the herd strength is maintained through the breeding. Worldwide there are still an estimated three million animals in the subpolar zones in Europe, America and Asia.

SWR | Status: January 8th, 2020, 9:26 am