Elk Island Archives - Kidding Herself

Where are the Moose at the Elk Island Biological Station?

To the very immediate north of Moscow is a nature reserve called Losiny Ostrov, or Elk Island, which is not an island but a forest. With elk in it.

Or possibly moose. It turns out everyone is quite unclear on the difference, including Mama.

The nature reserve has a Biological Station which you can go and visit. It’s been on our list for a while. But given that Mama considered the location (the middle of a forest) unfriendly and had somehow decided we needed to go in the dead of winter, things kept intervening, and it was only recently we made it to the nature reserve’s visitor centre.

The final obstacle turned out to be the booking system. Allegedly, according to the website, one can only set foot in the Elk Island Biological Station if one is on an excursion, and the excursion needs to be booked in advance.

The website booking system is broken, however.

It doesn’t look broken, you understand. And you will get email confirmation of something. But since you can’t actually specify a day let alone a time or indeed pay, Mama was confused, and decided to ring up to find out what she was doing wrong.

At which point she discovered that she needed to run the gauntlet of press one to report an escaped moose, press two to book an excursion, press three to report a problem with the website type experience first.

On the upside, having carefully selected the right button and only spent ten minutes listening to Venessa Paradis singing Joe Le Taxi on a loop (I promise I am not making this up), it turned out that Mama was not being inept. There really was a problem with the website.

So she booked by phone.

Not sure why, really, though, as you still don’t pay when booking by phone either.

And when we arrived, bang on the time for the excursion we had signed up for, no mention was made whatsoever of the existence of any prior booking.

However, I’m sure the question you are all really interested in is, did we see elk? Or even moose?

And the answer is, yes!

A moose in the snow, with his face turned to show us a very mooselike nose

We also listened to a number of interesting facts to do with elkmoose. Including (but not limited to) the fact that mooselk like to get deliberately high from car fumes. Also, mushrooms.

An elf nibbling on a silver birch branch at Elk Island Biological Station

What the talk did not address is why there is so much confusion over the difference between elk and moose, a debate not helped by the English version of the explanatory placard about the animals, which had them labeled at elk (moose).

Mama has finally gotten fed up with the debate, and fired up Google. It seems that while in Europe the words elk and moose are interchangeable, in North America, what we were looking at were definitely moose, as elk is the name of a different animal.

Hope that clears it up, although we were expecting something bigger. Where the information that the type of elk we have near Moscow are far smaller than the type of elk they have in Siberia leaves us I do not know, except to say that the elk at the Biological Station did have the sort of nose you would associate with moose, and Mama may have not been paying attention when the guide mentioned how old the one we were looking at was.


Given that Losiny Ostrov is a nature reserve, and the animals are generally supposed to be roaming freely, the existence of some in enclosures at the Biological Station needs explaining, and so when we were not furthering our zoological knowledge, we were finding out about why the individual animals were there.

This elk (moose), which as you can see is sitting down so it’s hard to say how big it is compared to the other one, is awaiting re release back into the wild after it ambled out of the forest and into a park deep into Moscow proper, meaning it needed fetching back. Sokolniki, in case you are wondering.

A moose sitting down in the snow surrounded by silver birch trees

Apparently this sort of thing is not an entirely isolated incident (Elk Island really is hard up against the borders of Moscow) and so while Mama has a long standing line of ridicule about the impression that there are bears on the streets of Russia’s capital, she is now going to have to concede that there are sometimes quite large wild animals at loose after all.

Not all the animals in the Elk Island Biological Station are moose or elk. Some of them are wild boar, which again is typical for the surrounding forest.

Overhead shot of two wild boar eating food a guide in a green coat has fed them from a bucket, while visitors look on

This pair are here, though, because some woman got hold of a pair of wild boar piglets, and was raising them in her garden (as you do), when suddenly they turned out very large and dug up her entire vegetable patch.

Two wild board and the guide (green coat, right) at the Elk Island Biological Station

And in this next picture you may be able to see at the very back of the enclosure some lovely small spotted deer. Mama was a bit more intent on trying to capture the lively crisp winter weather than the wildlife, while also leading us in a reminiscence about London’s Richmond Park, aka the Poo Park, mainly because it is both full of these and other deer, and their poo.

Feeding trough in the foreground of a snowy enclosure with some very small deer very far away at the back

Although Losiny Ostrov also started off a a royal hunting preserve, as it happens.

Mama thinks they may be fallow deer, mainly because there are only a few names of deer she knows and that’s one of them, but this is relevant because these deer are not native to Russia, but brought over for a private collection by somebody rich (as you do). Which is illegal, so they ended up here and will NOT be released in case they, I dunno, start outbreeding the elk or moose or something.

Some of these next deer are sika deer.

Close up of a deer's muzzle at the Elk Island Biological Station

Mama does not know quite why this is exciting (she was changing the battery in her camera because the cold had done for the first one) but she knows that it is, and that the large male one with the antlers is called Vasya.

A deer with large antlers feeding from a trough
A deer with large antlers sitting in the snow
A deer with large antlers walking through the snow

And that was the end of the tour. I pronounced it well worth the effort, Big Bro got to touch a moose/ elk and is never washing his hand again, and Mama’s only regret was that there did not seem to be anywhere to celebrate her triumph over flakey booking systems with coffee and hot chocolate.

It’s possible that there’s a bit more to it in the warmer months, and certainly the website advertises all sorts of other related activities such as a longer tour round more of the reserve, and some Winter Holiday related children’s activities.

Mama is a bit skeptical about what the website says, but is definitely up for going back again in summer to find out.

More information

The Elk Island Losiny Ostrov website.

Location: Moscow region, Kropotkinsky proezd, coordinates – 55.879232, 37.784380.

Opening: Tuesday – Sunday from 10am to 6pm.

Admission: 600 roubles for adults and 400 roubles for kids.

Getting there: There is parking (costing 250 roubles) next to the Elk Island Biological Station, and by car is by far the easiest way to get there, as it’s a good 30 minute hike from the nearest bus stop at 4th Parkovaya Street. Possibly that’s what the Joe le Taxi song is all about. You can get the minibus 333 (from VDNKh metro, or 3 from Perlovskaya station, or the 547 bus from Los station. These run infrequently, 30 minutes apart or to a timetable.

Street Art at Belokamennaya Station, Moscow

When Mama and Papa tried to take us round the newly opened Central Circle overland railway line round Moscow, it did not go well. So this weekend they snuck off and did it without us. This post is not about that, though, but the impromptu side trip they made when the train stopped seemingly in the desolated middle of a forest at Belokamennaya (Whitestone). A brand new station in the middle of nowhere? Clearly they had to get off to check what, in fact, was the point.


Well, at first glance, this newly renovated train halt seems to be servicing someone’s well protected dacha (country retreat) and sauna complex. Although Papa did note that if you follow the reasonably well trodden footpath through the woods in that direction, you get to somewhere a bit more populated fairly quickly.


You can also admire one of the old turn of the century stations built for the original iteration of this passenger service.

Old Station Belokamennaya

But it seems the real attraction lies on the other side of the tracks.

First, this is a sort of back entrance into the large forested nature reserve, ‘Elk Island’ (yes, with actual elks. Also, wild boar, beavers and some kind of egret). As you may or may not have noticed if you follow Mama on social media, the snow has made a seemingly permanent arrival in Moscow already. Clearly one of the things you can do in Elk Island woods at this time of year is go cross country ski-ing, and the parents did indeed encounter a number of people setting out to do just that. Although they also saw a very determined young couple who had taken their stroller out for a breath of fresh air and were manhandling it back across the completely non-existent pathway towards the station entrance too. So general hiking in the area is also a thing, winter, summer, whatever.

Skiing at Belokamennaya

What caught Mama’s eye, however, were the abandoned buildings.

Now Mama is not sure that she entirely approves of the schadenfreude photography fetish for ruined Soviet structures, but on the other hand there is something a bit more interestingly voyeuristic about poking around someone else’s stuff from the recent past rather than two thousand years ago.

Mama has never been one for standing in the middle of a field and feeling the vibrations.

Plus, it turns out that at Belokamennaya, there is also graffiti.

street art steam punk belokamennaya

Street art Belokamennaya

Street art cat Belokamennaya

Street art Belokamennaya

Street art tag Belokamennaya

Street art face Belokamennaya

Street art Belokamennaya

Street art flowers Belokamennaya

Street art skull Belokamennaya

So given the authentically dystopian atmosphere of the distressed concrete, the large amounts of rubbish, the godforsaken location and the epic street art, it’s not surprising that Mama and Papa tripped over Russian citizens secretly preparing for what she understands is the imminent invasion of Latvia.


Or indulging in a bit of free range laser questing. Your choice.

Laser quest Belokamennaya

Mama is afraid that she and Papa spoiled it a bit, by wandering around, clearly unafraid of being shot and taking photographs. Especially as she had on her heeled city boots, a natty flower strewn hat and a Cath Kitson-esque shoulder bag. Not very suitable for the urban warfare look, Mama.

But also not very suitable for yomping around offroad either, so once they had got their fill of the clean crisp cold air, they got back on the train and continued their journey. Which is a story for another day.

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Reasons why you should get off the train at Belokamennaya station on the Central Circle Line, Moscow, Russia

More Information

The Moscow Metro’s Central Circle Line website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about Kyselak, a graffiti tagger who left his mark.

Address: 55.8298°N 37.7018°E

Opening: Trains on the Central Circle run from 6am to 1am, and the interval between trains on this line is between 5 – 15 minutes, depending on the time of day.

Admission: One shot Metro tickets are 60 roubles (more expensive per pound than a year ago, less expensive than five years ago. I dunno. Google it). You can travel anywhere on the network making as many connections as you like within 90 minutes for that. It’s cheaper if you have a Troika card (like London’s Oyster).

By public transport: Well, it’s Belokamennaya, innit. On the Central Circle line.

By car: Mama couldn’t possibly comment.