NATURE / Mammals

An estimated 40 mammal species can be found in the Kursiu Nerija National Park.

The biggest one, elk (Alces alces), is a symbol of the Curonian Spit. This animal, so impressive in size, lives for 15 to 20 years. Antlers grow in April and shed in winter. The biggest antlers are found on males 7-8 years old. Elk rut in September and bear one or two calves in May. They feed on pine shoots, needles and bark of young pine trees.
Before World War II, about 200 elks lived in the Curonian Spit. But after the war only white skulls were seen on the dunes. In 1948, a few elks crossed the lagoon and settled again in the spit. After some time their number reached 100. Such a number of elks is disastrous for young pine stands. It became difficult to recover forest on felled areas. Due to this up to 20 individuals a year were hunted in the Kursiu Nerija National Park from 1985 to 1996. Currently about 30 animals live in the park. Hunting quotes each year controls the elk number.

The wild boar (Sus scrofa) finds excellent living conditions in the spit. Mountain pine thickets are best to hide in. Wet birch and alder stands suit as mud baths. The Curonian wild boar is smaller than its continental relatives because of food shortages. Therefore, wild boars should be fed in winter. Starving animals become fearless and even aggressive. They come to gardens and beg food from visitors. One such family can be seen on the road near Preila.

Before dark and occasionally in day-time, one can see roe deer (Capreolus capreolus). This is a very timid animal. Roe deer try to avoid meeting humans - one can watch them from a distance but if you want to get closer, they just run away. Famous grazing places are scrubs where dunes and forest meet. In winter they feed on young shoots and twigs of deciduous trees.

The brown hare (Lepus europaeus) is as cowardly as most of its relatives from the continent. It hides all day and when the dark comes, it goes to the dune meadows and grazes there all night. In winter, hare prints on the snow make a mysterious pattern, which is very dense on the seaside dunes overgrown by willows - the hare's main dish. Primary predators are foxes and martens. In this way nature controls the hare population size.

The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is rather common in the Curonian Spit. The best opportunity to see it is in autumn. Foxes divide hunting areas and fight invaders. Only in winter they ignore this rule. The snow season is vital for them because of difficulties with food. In spite of this they have excellent conditions in the spit - in thick mountain pine woods they feel safe and sound.

Other less common animals in the spit are: the badger (Meles meles), and the racoon-dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides), small predators such as pine marten (Martes martes), stoat (Mustela erminea), and weasel (Mustela nivalis). On the side of the Curonian Lagoon live two immigrants: the muskrat (Ondatra zibethica) and the American mink (Lutreola vison Brisson). Their neighbor otter (Lutra lutra) is on the Red List. On the seaside beaches the grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) sometimes can be seen. It is another Red List representative.

Very few studies have been done about bats and small rodents. The most common is the yellow-necked mouse (Apodemus flavicollis Melchior). One of the smallest mammals - the shrew (Sorex sp.) - often can be heard in shrubs. This animal feeds on insects and every day eats as much as it weights. Without food it dies after several hours.

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