The Return of Native Nordic Fauna

A research blog exploring animal reintroduction history by Dolly Jørgensen

Category: talks

Beaver history on TV

I appeared on the NRK live broadcast television program Sommeråpent on 8 August 2017. The broadcast was at Nelaug train station in Åmli kommune. I’ve has worked on the history of beavers in Norway and Sweden and Åmli holds a special place in that history because all beavers in Scandinavia originate from there. I had the chance on the program to introduce this history, as well as the historical use of beaver products.

While I was waiting for the filming to begin, I got to sit with the taxidermied beaver on a picnic bench. I had lots of kids stop by so I got to give mini-talks about beavers and their history. The kids were very interested and some even brought their parents over after hearing about the beavers to show the parents what they learned. It was great!

So here’s the video of my part on the show, which was broadcast live on NRK 1 and is now available in the video archive:

This blog of course contains much more information about the beavers of Åmli for you to read, such as a post about my visit to Næs Ironworks, a post on the Beaver Whisper Peder Jensen, and a post inspired by my first visit to Elverheim museum on castoreum.

While I was in the area, I also had a meeting with Tonje Ramse Trædal of Elverheim Museum (who was kind enough to provide the beaver and castoreum sacs for the TV appearance). We are planning a museum exhibit to mark the 100 year anniversary of the beavers being sent in 1921 from Norway to Sweden for reintroduction. I’m excited about this opportunity to reach an even bigger Norwegian audience with this research.

Wild tourism meets local civilisation

The contemporary ‘rewilding’ movement as manifested in organisations like Rewilding Europe promotes wildlife tourism as an economic benefit for local communities. The newest Rewilding Europe target area, Rewilding Lapland, has also adopted this emphasis on wildlife watching as an alternative to other disruptive uses of the land such as intensive forestry, mining, and green energy developments which are competing economic interests in the area.

The event at Dalarna University was organised by Albina Pashkevich (middle). Håkan Lindström of Rewilding Lapland also talked at the event.

The event at Dalarna University was organised by Albina Pashkevich (middle). Both I (left) and Håkan Landström (right) of Rewilding Lapland talked at the event.

As a historian, I look for historical parallels or (although I know many historians shutter at the idea) historical lessons that might shed light on potential hidden problems with contemporary developments. So when I was asked to participate in a seminar about rewilding and tourism at Dalarna University’s Tourism Studies group last week, I decided to offer up a historical case of when ‘rewilding’ tourism (even if it wasn’t called rewilding back then) conflicted with local inhabitants. Håkan Landström of Rewilding Lapland was there to talk about his plans to get the rewilding activities up and running.

I talked about the Norwegian muskox herd that has become a tourist icon in the Dovre mountains and Dovre National Park with signs and toys and muskox safaris. On the surface, everything would seem great with these reintroduced animals that have built up a whole tourist industry around themselves.

But below the surface I’ve found a history of local inhabitants who did not want muskox there. They were scared to go hiking, had to run up trees to avoid charging animals, and one local man was killed. Numerous newspaper articles over the years reveal that muskoxen ended up going into towns and either had to be shooed away or shot. The upshot of all that is that a multi-community muskox management plan had to be created in order to make sure that these wild animals stay inside the lines of the allowable area (or are killed).

So while rewilding proponents keep talking about how we need to ‘give nature some more space’ (Landström of Rewilding Lapland said this in his talk) or E. O. Wilson lauches his idea to ‘devote half the surface of the Earth to nature’, they often overlook that people actually inhabit and/or use those spaces. People who live and work in rural areas generally don’t want predators or large dangerous animals in places where they might come in contact with them. Sure, a tourist will think it’s great to go on a wildlife safari in the north to see muskox or bear or lynx, but they don’t have to live there all the time. Not everybody wants to work in tourism–some people honestly want to be farmers. And that doesn’t mean that they are not ‘civilised’. Rewilders need to take seriously local residents’ concerns or they risk creating colonial hierarchies in which the rural/local/peripheral are ‘sacrificed’ on behalf of the urban/distant/center.

This doesn’t mean that rewilding initatives are impossible. But they better start listening to more voices if we are going to get this party started.

A muskox from Dave Eggers, It is Right to Draw Their Fur (buy the book here:

An awesome muskox drawn by Dave Eggers. Buy his It is Right to Draw Their Fur here:



Learning to live in the multi-species city

We tend to think that cities, as human constructs, are the homes of humans. But they are much more than that. The modern city is actually filled with wild animal inhabitants. Squirrels, hedgehogs, pigeons, sparrows, frogs, and many more small critters live within the confines of European cities; it is their natural habitat. Livestock have also traditionally been city residents, with pigs and poultry as most common. Mice and rats receive the most frequent negative response, particularly when they take up residence inside of human houses. But in the 21st century many of the others are seen as desirable—indicators of an environmentally-friendly urban area. Our artificial structures are part of nature for these animals.

I was invited to talk at an event called “PLATSEN: bringing together key actors for sustainability” this week in Umeå. The event was targeted toward local and regional actors working on urban sustainable design, urban planning, and smart cities. The organisers asked me to give a talk about environmental history as a policy tool. I decided to tell four histories that reveal different approaches to our non-human co-inhabitants of cities. These were stories of Control, Care, Compromise, and Creativity.

The Control history used an incident in 1354 when the Norwich city government records recorded a complaint that:

divers persons and children have been hurt by boars, children killed and eaten, and others [when] buried exhumed, and others maimed, and many persons of the said city have received great injuries as wrecking of houses, destruction of gardens of divers persons by such kind of pigs upon which great complaint is often brought before the said Bailiffs and Community imploring them for remedy on the misfortunes, dangers and injuries which have been done to them. (Records of the City of Norwich, 205–6).

I talked about how the response to urban pigs was to control their actions through penning and herding, rather than banning the animals from town. There was a need to accommodate daily life and routines to the animals’ presence.

For the Care story, I used the burning badger babies incident I discussed previously on this blog. In this case, firefighters had rescued some badger kits from a burning building–revealing their care for the animals. But the kits ended up being euthanised because an appropriate rehabilitation facility could not be found–which we can also read as an act of care.

The story of St. Francis and the wolf of Gubbio showed how Compromise works with urban animals. The residents of Gubbio had to be willing to give the wolf alternatives if they wanted to avoid predation on their sheep.

Watching the bats emerge from under Congress Avenue Bridge, Austin, Texas. April 2016. Photo by D Jørgensen.

Watching the bats emerge from under Congress Avenue Bridge, Austin, Texas. April 2016. Photo by D Jørgensen.

Finally, I told the story of the bats under the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas as an example of Creativity. The Congress Avenue Bridge has crossed the Colorado River in downtown Austin to connect the two sides of town since 1910, but when it was renovated in 1980, it became a perfect habitat for bats. Bats begin showing up to roost under the bridge in 1982 and now there are over 1 million bats that roost under bridge from March to November every year. While the initial reaction in the early 1980s to the bats was fear, the city has adopted the animals as as a tourist attraction and even symbol of the city. In 1990 the city parks and recreation department set up a large educational display along the river’s trail. The city approved the installation of artist Dale Whistler’s kinetic metal sculpture of a stylised bat in a triangular intersection island near the bridge in 1998. The annual Bat Fest, featuring live music, art and craft vendors, and bat-themed activities on the bridge including the nightly emergence, started in 2004. There are hundreds who come each night to see the bats emerge: See the bat flight I witnessed. This is creative co-inhabitation.

To make sustainable cities we need to learn to live in a multi-species city. We need to become welcoming to non-humans by adopting policies and approaches of Control, Care, Compromise, and Creativity depending on particular historical circumstances.

You can watch my full talk online. My part starts at minute 11:30 in the video feed.

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