The forests of Finland hide a world of enchanting animals. Silky-soft moss, the sprawling roots of age-old trees and clear lakes are the playing grounds of shy bears, amber-eyed owls, elusive reindeer and curious seals. Each animal has a place in both the forests’ ecosystems and the country’s folklore, their importance as big today is it was hundreds of years ago.
The hilly landscapes of Finland hide little blue gems. A country characterised by its 180 000 odd lakes, Finland is home to some of the cleanest waters in the world. Ask any Finn about lakes, and they’ll tell you stories about their warm and wild childhood summers, or winter mornings spent ice-skating over a frozen lake. If you find yourself by one on a crisp winter morning, keep your eyes peeled and you might spot a ringed seal emerging from the ice, peeking its head above the water. Be prepared to wait for a while, though: this seemingly clumsy animal is at home in water and rarely lounges on land. The ringed seal is the mascot of Finnish nature conservation — and with its cute face and round eyes, we can’t think of a better spokesperson.
Winters in the North can be challenging — but not to the reindeer that can brave the cold thanks to its soft, thick fur that protects it from subzero temperatures. Adorned with impressive horns, the world’s fastest-growing bone, it is a hefty creature: a male reindeer can weigh up to 100 kilos and a female reindeer can clock in at 80 kilos. It is quite the gourmand: armed with four stomachs, it enjoys moss, lichen and twigs that it sometimes digs out from even one-metre deep snow banks.
This fluffy creature hides behind moss-covered rocks deep in the forest and slumbers through the darkest months in heavy hibernation. Around 2000 brown bears, Finland’s national animal, roam around the woodlands. Ancient Finns thought the bear to be a fearsome animal, but in reality, it is quite shy and rarely ventures out to meet humans eye-to-eye. You can call a bear karhu, otso or nalle; as the Finns say, a dear child has many names and so there are over 200 different names for the brown bear in Finnish. If you go trekking in the forest in the spring, try to spot bear tracks. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a tiny bear cub that has just emerged from their hibernation den, ready to face the big, wide world.
Although the eagle-owl might look intimidating, it is a gentle animal. One of the largest and most impressive species of owl, you’ll recognise it by its rather daft but endearing-looking ear tufts. Staring into its eyes is mesmerising: their rich orange hue is almost magical. These high-flying birds build their homes in old and rocky pine forests but aren’t strangers to the chilly shores of the Baltic Sea either. Some eagle-owls have even become cool urban dwellers and built their penthouses close to human habitation.