Leffe Lindh loves moose. He exchanges kisses with them daily and even sleeps with them on a regular basis. But lest you think this is some sort of kinky fetish story, allow me to explain.
Lindh’s affinity for moose began more than two decades ago, when he was asked to care for a moose calf whose mother had been killed in a traffic accident. Lindh, a hunter at the time, borrowed a horse transport and brought the calf home. Unfortunately, the young animal had been alone for too long and died after five days, but Lindh had found his calling. The experience set him on a new path in life, inspiring him to create Gårdsjö Älgpark (Gårdsjö Moose Park), a sanctuary where moose can live in peace and safety and visitors can see these magnificent animals – one of Scandinavia’s largest species – up close.
“Everyone thought I was a complete idiot,” Lindh recalls. That didn’t stop him. After years of planning – plus a divorce and a new marriage to a woman who shared his dream – Lindh acquired two moose from another park in 2006. In 2008, the first calf was born at Gårdsjö. The park now has more than a dozen moose and attracts thousands of visitors per year to its tranquil setting in the countryside 90 minutes northwest of Stockholm.
The kisses Lindh exchanges with his animals may be a stunt for visitors – though the moose don’t seem to mind (actually, they seem to rather enjoy exchanging wet smooches) – but the purpose behind the park is serious.
Sleeping beside young moose soon after they are born is Lindh’s way of habituating them to his presence. Sometimes, his intervention is essential for their survival. In 2014, a newborn, Olivia, was rejected by her mother, Hedvig, when she was just five days old – Hedvig had two calves, and the other was stronger. Lindh took the helpless baby into his home, and Olivia lived with her human family until she was strong enough to return to the park. Another baby, Pelle, was born in the wild and came to Gårdsjö after being found orphaned by a roadside.
Visitors to the moose park are driven into the pastures on open tractor trailers. During the tour, which lasts about an hour, the gregarious Lindh shares facts about his charges and how the park came to be. I learned, for example, that although moose have eyesight similar to that of human beings, their senses of hearing and smell are 250 times keener. Also that a moose can run up to 60 kilometers (37 miles) per hour, and its antlers can grow up to 20 millimeters (3/4 of an inch) in a 24-hour period.
During high season, a tour may have 150 or more participants, but all seats face out so everyone has the opportunity to get a close look at the moose and perhaps even touch them. He prefers to operate tours with large groups fewer times per day (twice during the high season, once during the low), rather than risk disturbing the moose with a constant flow of visitors.
“It’s a pleasure to be able to do this. It’s so much fun,” Lindh says. “It’s tiring – I have to deliver every day, and everything depends on me. Sometimes I feel the weight of that. But in a good way.”
For more information, visit the Gårdsjö Älgpark website.
Latest update: May 4, 2018