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Hornswoggled: Finnish Broadcaster Under Fire Over Fake Soviet 'Battle Moose'

CC0 / / Elk
Elk - Sputnik International
Finland's national television and radio company Yle has come under heavy scrutiny for violating journalistic ethical guidelines for its notorious piece about "battle moose" the Red Army allegedly trained during WW2.

Finland's Council for Mass Media (JSN) claimed national broadcaster Yle violated a number of paragraphs of the Journalist Ethical Rules when it published an article about the Soviet Union allegedly training "combat moose" to attack the enemy.

A review of the story revealed that Yle's controversial article was based on an April Fool's joke published in Russian media in 2010. Not only did Yle fail to make corresponding remarks about it in the text, as required by the ethical rules, but it also used manipulated images to illustrate the story.

The original joke article "Horned Cavalry" first appeared in the Russian magazine Popular Mechanics, which has a long tradition of publishing hilarious April Fool's pieces.

The sham article, which glorified "battle moose" as the "unsung heroes" of the Finnish War, featured fake quotes by USSR leader Joseph Stalin, who "lauded" moose tamers for "having raised real Soviet animals," as well as heavily photoshopped images of the magazine's staff posing as Red Army men mounting a Degtyaryov machine gun on a moose's horns. It also featured an obviously fake brochure on "The Use of Moose in Red Army Cavalry Units" modeled on the military literature of that time.

​However, many people appeared to have fallen for the prank, as the article was subsequently heavily reprinted, with quotes from it regularly appearing in the Wikipedia article about moose. A museum in the Russian town of Lakhdenpokhya in the Republic of Karelia was even later found to sport "unique photographs of battle moose the Soviet Army trained for four years."

​This summer, Soviet battle moose became a hit in Finnish media, as a number of newspapers, including Iltalehti, followed Yle's example and came up with their own breakthrough stories of the Red Army's prowess in taming moose.

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Although Yle later discovered the delusion, it failed to correct the factual errors in the original article in accordance with journalistic instructions. Also, the manipulated images were used without informing the public.

In reality, attempts to domesticate the moose were made as early as the 19th century by Russian zoologist and explorer Alexander von Middendorff. In the Soviet Union, Pyotr Manteufel repeated attempts to tame the moose in the 1930s. After the war, the idea of domesticating the moose was pursued again, with the focus on agricultural use. In 1949, a moose farm was launched in the Komi Republic in northern Russia. In the 1960s, yet another moose farm was established in Kostroma Region. Both of them still keep herds, primarily for milk production and harvesting antler velvet and are open to the public.

​Contrary to popular myth, the large and sturdy moose don't take to being ridden. Which is why the famous photograph of US President Theodore Roosevelt allegedly riding a bull moose, a symbol of the Progressive Party, is also a fake.

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