With a looming height of seven feet at the shoulder, moose (Alces alces)—or elk, as they are commonly called in Europe—are giants in their native boreal forests of Scandinavia. But these magnificent creatures haven’t always been so prominent. Hunting pressure in the 19th century nearly drove the species to extinction across the region. With moose numbers dwindling, Scandinavian governments stepped in to impose strict regulations, including a period of hunting prohibition in the late 1800s, that enabled the populations to begin their slow recovery. Today there are approximately 350,000 moose in Sweden alone, a population that supports both sustainable hunting and increasingly popular moose-watching safaris. Photographer Staffan Widstrand was trekking through Sweden’s Sarek National Park when he captured this rather grisly process: a bull moose quickly shedding, and consuming, the fuzzy encasement of its antlers known as velvet. Laced with nutrient-supplying blood vessels, this delicate tissue supports the rapid springtime growth of antlers—as much as an inch of new bone per day. Near summer’s end, the antlers begin to harden and mineralize, at which point the blood supply ceases to circulate through the velvet. Bulls then scrape their racks on nearby trees to speed the sloughing process. Widstrand says it was unclear whether this bull was merely clearing the long, tattered ribbons of velvet from his field of vision or recouping the valuable nutrients this tissue contains.

Sarek National Park, Lapland, Sweden

Staffan Widstrand

Staffan Widstrand has been a full-time independent photographer since 1990. He has won numerous international awards for his work, including Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Sweden’s Image of the Year, and the World Wildlife Fund’s Panda book award. The author of 16 books, he is a founder of the Swedish Ecotourism Association and main consultant behind the organization’s quality label, ”Nature’s Best.” Widstrand has been a Nikon Ambassador since 1997, and a National Geographic Explorer since 2009.

Katie Jewett

Katie Jewett

Katie Jewett is a science writer, producer, and communications manager at the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions where she loves learning something new every day about our planet. Previously, she spent winters in the Colorado Rockies and summers living and working on the water.

bioGraphic is powered by the California Academy of Sciences, a renowned scientific and educational institution dedicated to regenerating the natural world through science, learning, and collaboration.