A heatwave and drought that lasted for much of the summer season meant that fewer elk were born in the region, and those which were born had less healthy conditions than usual. According to the administrative board, this creates a risk that many of the young elk will face stunted growth as a result.
During the hunting season 2018-19, the usual rules around shooting calves have been lifted, with the board saying “all elk calves that can be felled should be felled”, and the goal to shoot “at least” as many elk as stated in plans.
“During summer and autumn, elk tend to feed up ahead of the winter. But many of the elk, above all females with calves, are likely struggling to recover after the warm, tough summer,” said Emil Brangenfeldt, who is responsible for game in the county.
Over a period of many years, the population of elk, deer and other game in Östergötland has grown significantly, creating what the board termed an “unsustainable competition for food, in which the elk is almost always the biggest loser”.
During the winter, elk have very limited access to berries, one of the main components of their diet, which can have a negative impact on the animals' health, particularly that of young elk.
The summer's tough conditions are expected to have an impact on reproduction in following years, and after a drought during 1992, reproduction in affected areas was lower than usual by over a third, with younger females the worst affected.
“The elk are quite simply in too poor condition to go into heat after a dry summer, especially if they gave birth to calves, which has consequences over the following years. Elk calves with a bad start won't be able to contribute to maintaining a high quality elk population either,” said Brangenfeldt.
Due to the current high levels of game in the area, the board has taken the decision to “match the populations to the existing conditions” not only for administrative reasons, but also for an ethical perspective.
“The risk is that the elk calves and other weak individual animals go into the winter with poor conditions and it becomes tough with the snow, for example,” Brangenfeldt said.