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English summaries 5/2000

Asko's herd -- or getting acquainted with elk
By Alice Karlsson

Pages 4-11

Wildlife photographer Asko Hämäläinen knows his elk (Am. moose) and his elk know him. Resident in southwestern Finland, Asko has been following elk around, and even mingling with them, for 15 years. Every year, he gets the herd used to his presence, so that the animals peacefully permit him to approach to observe and photograph their activities. In southern Finland there are few predators capable of preying on elk, so that these large mammals are left undisturbed until the start of the autumn hunting season. Not surprisingly, hunting makes the elk nervous and they flee upon sight of a human being. In spring, the females generally give birth to their calves in Asko's bailiwick at the end of May.

Bull elk enter the rutting season in late August, when they excavate a "rutting hole" a metre or so deep in the earth. The animal then urinates in this hole and takes a sand bath in the urine-tainted soil. It then proceeds to wander around bathed in its deodorant in an attempt to encounter the females present in the same vicinity. If several sexually aroused bull elk arrive at a site simultaneously, the largest and strongest generally takes over without so much as a struggle. Female elk are generally on heat for only a day or two.

In southern Finland the hunting season begins at the right time, i.e. at the end of the rutting season. Further north, the rut takes place at a later date, as the calves are also born later than they are in the south. Thus, elk hunting in northern Finland begins too early and may disturb reproduction.

Spring flies into the archipelago
By Mauri Leivo

Pages 2123

The first archipelago birds put in an appearance even before the ice has a chance to melt. Great black-backed and herring gulls squat expectantly on their nesting islets, now dark masses against the glittering, frozen sea. Most birds, however, do not arrive until the ice has already departed. Spring is the busiest time of year for the archipelago, a great deal of activity being crammed into a short time span.

Climate warming is also apparent in the Finnish Archipelago; in the south and west the sea is ice free almost the whole winter long and any trace of ice melts extremely early in the year. Consequently, some archipelago birds do not even bother to leave Finnish waters for the winter.

Mourning the wryneck
By Juha Valste

Pages 2628

The wryneck, whose Finnish name of käenpiika means "cuckoo's maid", is a familiar nest box resident whose distinctive song is known to many Finns. Regrettably, however, the species has drastically declined over the whole of Europe during the last few decades. Wrynecks have completely vanished from the British Isles and Belgium, while their numbers have been reduced to around one tenth of their former strength in Sweden. In Finland, although the species has obviously decreased, some 20,000 pairs still nest here. A decline in the wryneck population overall is most likely due to changes in Europe's rural environment. In Finland, the bird used to inhabit forest borders and thin mixed stands, nesting either in nest boxes put up by people, or in cavities excavated, and abandoned, by woodpeckers (which make a new nest hole every year). Wrynecks feed mainly on ants, which modern forest management tends to treat in a very cavalier fashion. The wryneck has been chosen by the Finnish ornithological society as the bird for concentrated monitoring in the year 2000.

Strange jawless "fish"
By Markku Lappalainen

Pages 3033

The lamprey is a primitive aquatic vertebrate whose fossil remains have been found from strata 500 million years old. Although considered a fish, it is in fact not closely related to what one may call real fish. Large quantities of lampreys have been caught in many districts of Finland as they migrate up rivers from the Baltic to spawn. Prepared in a variety of different ways, many Finns and Russians consider a lamprey delicious eating. In many respects, the life of the species is unusual. Individuals migrating upstream to spawn do not eat at all for 8 or 9 months, causing shrinkage of the alimentary canal. Then the female's body cavity tears open, releasing thousands of eggs, which the male then fertilises in the water. After spawning, lampreys die or so it is believed. Lampreys still have a lot of secrets, which researchers are attempting to unravel.

Mega-fiasco in Borneo
By Jyrki Jauhiainen and Harri Vasander

Pages 4246

In 1995, a Mega Rice project was launched in the southern part of Borneo, which belongs to Indonesia. This formed part of the Indonesian government's policy of transmigresi, or transmigration, involving the transfer of people from over-populated areas to locations with a more thinly scattered population. At the same time, "reliable" Javanese are being conveniently deployed among "unreliable" indigenous tribes to act as a buffer and to help combine the multiracial population into a "single Indonesian nation".

The project was aimed at turning a huge swamp forest area into a giant rice padi. This was totally unsuccessful, because rice will not grow in acid peat. Among the many consequences were the destruction of the indigenous Dayaks' natural environment, the loss of many native plants and animals, and an upsetting kick to the world's carbon balance. Officials responsible for the ill-fated project have been taken to court for misappropriation of government funds and neglect of their duties. Unfortunately, Indonesia's general unrest in the recent past has kept the world's face turned away from Borneo's rice project catastrophe.

Hiking in the Alps
By Jorma Laurila

Pages 5859

There are thousands of kilometres of waymarked hiking trails in the Swiss Alps for those with the wanderlust. These routes can be easily reached by public transport. Often, the cable car forms an excellent facility for the rambler wishing to reach the alpine zone as quickly as possible, or to come down before dusk falls. Walkers can see a fascinating variety of flowers, butterflies and birds. Marmots, ibex and chamois also inhabit the alpine meadows. Lower down, numerous cows feed on the pastures.



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