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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.