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'Leffe the moose man' promises elk intimacy

'Leffe the moose man' promises elk intimacy

Published: 06 Sep 2011 15:21 GMT+02:00
Updated: 06 Sep 2011 15:21 GMT+02:00

Sweden’s wildlife can be hard to find at the best of times, but luckily, if it's an elk you want to see, a safari park near Stockholm promises to get you so close you might even get a smooch, Oliver Gee discovers.

Gårdsjö Älgpark lies just outside Heby, 100km north-west of Stockholm and the 16 hectare slice of Swedish wilderness plays host to a growing family of elk and thus feels able to offer visitors an elk guarantee.

The park is the brainchild of Leif Lindh, or self-styled "Leffe the Moose Man", and is the result of his devotion to raising the elk in their natural habitat, albeit an accessible and public-friendly version.

He takes great pride in the fact that these "Kings of the Forest" not only trust and follow him, but are comfortable enough to eat from his hand, be petted by visitors, and even bathe with him in a nearby lake if the weather is right.

“As far as I know I’m the only person in the world who swims with elks,” Lindh says with a grin, although when The Local dropped by, the water is a little too cold to see him in action.

While the business is now booming, with 130,000 visitors finding their way to Gårdsjö in 2010, the novel approach to accessible wildlife management wasn't an immediate success.

“People thought I was crazy when I told them about my dream to start an elk safari. My friends, my family - they all said I was mad," he explains.

When no-one turned up on the opening day in 2007, "Leffe" began to wonder whether the doubters were right.

“I was strong willed and a little stubborn. And I love these majestic creatures. I was sure people from around the world would enjoy seeing them as close-up as I do. Luckily they did.”

On the safari itself, Lindh drives a tractor with tailor-made trailer loads of camera-ready tourists attached, and provides a rather eccentric running commentary.

We are driven out into the fields, and soon come to a stop when a shout from the crowd turns everyone's attention toward an elk-shaped figure looming among the birch trees.

Gunde, the alpha male, emerges from the forest on the crest of a hill, seemingly posing for the cameras while surveying our group.

He has the enormous, fur-covered antlers of a four-year old, used to assert his impressive dominance among his family and the spectators alike.

Lindh coaxes him down towards the crowd with soothing words and a bucket of pellets, and slowly leads him all the way around the group, stopping regularly for photos and petting.

Indeed, during the safari, the entire group of elk fans has ample opportunity to touch and pet the animals, which remain calm in the presence of the visitors.

“It’s quite alright to touch their horns too,” offers Lindh.

“Try it - you can feel the blood pulsing through. Just like warm kiwi fruits, no?”

Gradually, more and more inquisitive elks emerge from the forest, drawn by the gentle calls of Leffe - the pied piper of this secluded elk kingdom.

The crowd delights in the latest additions to the 14 strong family, twins Lady and Luffsen (Lady and The Tramp) who are only 7 weeks old.

Lindh runs tours three times a day, Tuesday to Sunday, giving eager elk fans information in a quickfire, humour-filled round in both Swedish and English.

He even claims to be teaching the elk English so they can respond to the wide variety of visitors they receive from around the world.

Last year alone, people from 120 different countries made the trip to Heby to see the moose man at work and somewhat ironically, Lindh believes his ever-growing guest book may be due to Sweden's decreasing elk population.

“There are only 250,000 in Sweden right now, and only 10-12 countries in the world have them in the wild. Some people go to Africa to see elephants, some come to Europe to see elk. I’ve just made that easier to achieve,” he says.

Lindh's relationship with these usually wary and unpredictable creatures has been honed by employing a rather unorthodox up close and personal approach.

“I come out into the woods and sleep between the calves and their mother for the first few days of their lives. They get used to my voice, my smell," he explains.

"Over the next three weeks, we spend 15 hours a day with them. At the end of it, when I leave the woods, even my own wife doesn't recognise me - but at least the elks do!”

As "Leffe" Lindh puckers up and plants a kiss on Holge, the mother elk, it might be a safe bet to assume that no man has such a close understanding of these majestic beasts.

“She even kisses better than my wife,” he jokes. “Nobody tell her, though!”

Check out The Local's elk intimacy gallery here.

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Your comments about this article

21:44 September 6, 2011 by Tanskalainen
If Holge doesn't give me a passion filled kiss I'll expect a refund. (Hey, I'm Danish)
01:28 September 7, 2011 by DavidtheNorseman
This will shortly be followed by the story: "Elk bites man's nose off."
09:15 September 7, 2011 by Whynot8
Please note that the "Mooseman" is kissing a moose, not an elk. "Älg" translates to "moose" in English. An elk is a different animal, a "kronhjort" in Swedish.
11:14 September 7, 2011 by isenhand
@Whynot8

Incorrect, the word "älge" translates as "elk" in English and the animal has been called an elk in Europe long before Columbus went to America. You can see that in the various names used in Europe such as the Swedish word "älg" or the German "elch" or the old English word "eolc" or even the Latin "alces" all referring to the Europe elk.

The word "moose" has a Native American origin refers to the same animal (and one Europeans would not have used before the 17 Century).

The word "kronhjort" translates as "red deer".

The confusion comes from calling a the American "wapiti" (Canadian Deer) an "elk" in error. Probably because early Europe explorers from England just referred to any large deer as "elk" without really know what an elk was.

see here:

http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/60507
12:02 September 7, 2011 by ooh456
@Whynot8

I agree with you. Why would the self-described 'moose man' call a moose an elk?

I think it's high time that the editors of The Local give in and start calling 'moose' moose and 'elks' elks.

This pisses me off every time I see it. In one recent article they referred to animals at a place called 'Moose land" as elks. Ha ha!
13:05 September 7, 2011 by stenhuggaren
it is not that hard to understand.

Swedes use moose in English because it is a cooler word and as a sop to our American cousins, who are more sensitive about these things.

While the Americans and the British can go on squabbling over who has the right to claim the English language as their own, one thing is for certain - the Swedes do not have that right and would never claim it.

The underlying factor is that animals all have a latin name (in this case alces alces) so the imperialist linguistic tendencies of the US/UK should be given a reality check.
18:37 September 7, 2011 by RobinHood
Respect to the man/woman who sees imperial ambitions in the name for an elk/moose/alces alces/whatever.
09:05 September 8, 2011 by karex
LOL here we go again with the elk vs moose debate...
11:54 September 8, 2011 by BrittInSweden
What is it with Swede's and kissing a moose?

In Åre there are posters saying "Have you kissed a moose?" and now this.

I mean, the women in Sweden are pretty hot so if people are resorting to beastiality like this then something has gone seriously wrong.
16:56 September 8, 2011 by Tanskalainen
@BrittinSweden The moose have fresher breath.
18:40 September 8, 2011 by ottertail49
As a young boy visiting relatives in Nova Scotia I did kiss a moose on the snout through the fence while visiting a wildlife park. My mother was livid and my brothers laughed hysterically. I was five years old.
14:22 September 9, 2011 by Ztitchofgrace
@ stenhuggaren: I used to assume Swedes called Moose Elks because they felt the word coincided or seemed the same as ' Elk' and were unaware of the actual Elk which roams North America. It was interesting to learn from Englishmen and Aussies that they actually call both the Cervus canadensis and Alces alces Elks. Just as long as a picture is attached I'm fine with that.
10:29 September 14, 2011 by Åskar
@Whynot8, isenhand and others

The wapiti is not considered a variety of red deer (kronhjort) anymore but a different, although closely related, species.
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