A research blog exploring animal reintroduction history by Dolly Jørgensen

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Documentaries and documenting history

Today I had the opportunity to watch a documentary film, “Samtidigt är varje bäver en personlighet” (dir. Malin Skjöld, 2012), which I had requested through the Svensk mediedatabas service. The film is a mixed media documentary that uses historical film, contemporary film, and animation to tell the story of the beaver, with a focus on Sweden.

To be honest, I’m not sure why the creators picked the title, which translates as “At the same time, every beaver is a personality”. One of the historical film clips shows Lars Wilsson, who was a high school instructor in northern Sweden for many years and wrote a book titled simply Bävern in1964 about beavers and their social habitats, discussing his experience raising beavers. In the clip, Wilsson says the quote that became the title–and it was certainly a focus of his work–although it does not seem to be a focus of the film. The film’s focus, on the contrary, is on the production of beaver felt hats, which according to the film was the reason for the beaver’s extermination in Europe.

The beaver reintroduction scene in "Samtidigt är varje bäver en personlighet" (2012)

The beaver reintroduction scene in “Samtidigt är varje bäver en personlighet” (2012)

While I have some issues with the “demand for beaver felt caused extinction” proposition, I was more interested today in what the film said about the beaver’s reintroduction. About two-thirds the way through the 28-minute film, the audience is told that some beavers had survived in Norway because landowners had protected them on their private property and “a school class from Jämtland collected money and brought two beavers. In 1922 beavers were released in Bjurälven. From there come all of Sweden’s beavers.” The visual image that goes along with these sentences is an animation of a group of children who receive two beavers from the Norwegian landowner and then release them into the water.

These three sentences said by the narrator in themselves are true, but put together in this way, they are completely false. Let me explain why.

Beaver reintroduction in Görvik in 1925. Published in E. Geete, "Bävern i Sverige och Norge" (1929)

Beaver reintroduction in Görvik in 1925. Published in E. Geete, “Bävern i Sverige och Norge” (1929)

A school group from Jämtland did purchase a pair of beavers, but the history was not the way the sentence implies. The group was an extracurricular “study circle” named “Vårdkasen” (the beacon) rather than a school class. The eight young people (in all likelihood in their late teens) in the group had previously taken initiatives in cultural heritage and nature protection, and in line with those efforts, the group voted in autumn 1924 to pay for a beaver pair to be set out in Görvikssjön (a newspaper article published 17 Nov 1924 documented the decision). When the beavers were released on 29 July 1925, it was the third release of beavers in Sweden–the first had been in 1922 in Bjurälven and the second in 1924 in Tärnaån. So while the second sentence in the sequence (“In 1922 beavers were released in Bjurälven”) is true, the youth group was not involved in that release. By 1940, there had been releases in 19 locations throughout Sweden according to Carl Fries’ book Bäverland. So if the “derifrån” (“from there”) in the third sentence means Bjurälven, then it is very wrong; if it means “Norway” which had been the source of the beavers mentioned a few sentences back, then it is correct.

The description of the documentary on various websites makes the film’s incorrect story into its main message. WebbTV for example describes the film as

Filmaren Malin Skjöld har gjort en delvis animerad film om bävrar. Bävern var nästan helt utrotad i Europa och Nordamerika när en svensk skolklass köpte in två bävrar och planterade ut dem i Jämtland 1922. …

Filmmaker Malin Skjöld has produced a partially animated film about beaver. Beaver was almost completely extinct in Europe and North America when a Swedish school class bought two beavers and released them in Jämtland in 1922. …

The film’s erroneous reintroduction history is perpetuated in this description. This documentary was shown three times on Swedish television (SVT) and I found two blogs (here and here) that mention how entertaining and great the film was. It may have been entertaining, but it didn’t document history, which is what I think a historical documentary should at least attempt to do.

Bottled beaver oil

As a short follow-up to my post about drinking castoreum, I wanted to share some newspaper advertisements I ran across in the Google Newspaper archive. I love ads as historical sources because they give us a unique insight into the way the seller of a product thinks about what they are selling. They may or may not adequately represent the consumer’s views – I certainly have seen ads in print or video that I think are pathetically written and don’t make me want to buy the product at all – but they at least tell us what the producer thinks the consumer wants to hear.

As Ann Anderson has discussed in Snake Oil, Hustlers and Hambones: The American Medical Show, patent medicines (which meant it was a proprietary formula) had saturated the American market by 1850. Thousands of concoctions, some of medicinal value and others with none at all, were available for sale. Many of the mixes contained addictive ingredients like morphine and cocaine – and nearly all of them were prepared with an alcohol base, making my castoreum liquor sound more and more like the old-time medicine.

Castoreum got caught up in this good-health-in-a-bottle movement, just like many other remedies.

Ad for Castoreum as one of the University Medicines, The News and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina, 30 Dec 1880

Advertisement for Castoreum as one of the University Medicines, The News and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina, 30 Dec 1880

One bottler of castoreum was New York Medical University, which was not in fact a university at all, but rather a patent medicine business owned by Dr. J. Walter Scott. There is a fascinating series of write-ups (1, 2, 3) about the business, including pictures of their medicine bottles. It appears that even after the death of Scott in 1870, doctors continued selling “The University Medicines”, including Dr. Seth S. Hance of Baltimore (ad from 1877) and Dr. H. Baer of Charleston (ad on right from 1880).

Castoreum as a University Medicine was marketed as a treatment for impotence. In the 1877 ad, it specifies that it works for both men and women. Castoreum, as far as I know, has no affect at all on sexual medical issues, so this claim was just standard quackery.

Advertisement for Dr. Jones' Beaver Oil, The Daily Eagle, Reading, PA, 28 January 1908.

Advertisement for Dr. Jones’ Beaver Oil, The Daily Eagle, Reading, PA, 28 January 1908.

A later patent medicine based on castoreum may, however, have lived up to its billing. I found a slew of ads for Dr. Jones’ Beaver Oil from 1907 to 1919 in The Daily Eagle of Reading, Pennsylvania. The Beaver Oil, which was rebranded as Dr. Jones’ Liniment in 1918, was sold as a topical ointment for pain. It was sold as “a necessity in every home” for treating sprains, bruises, soreness, swollen joints, and general aches. Because castoreum contains salicylates, it should have functioned in cream form similar to modern topical pain creams with aspirin, which have anti-inflammatory and anti-pain effects.

So this beaver oil was no snake oil. It might actually have worked!


The film that never was

In historical research, we are sometimes pleasantly surprised by what we find in the archives: a document illuminates a new part of the story, a picture recording a moment otherwise forgotten, a letter exposes the mindset of the people of the times. The recording of information, and then preserving that information, is crucial for the historian.

A 1963 video about beavers in Canada, part of the Canadian Wildlife Service’s Hinterland’s Who’s Who series, was recently rediscovered. The short video opens with a voiceover intoning,

There was a time that beaver lodges like this one and the busy beavers that build them had almost disappeared in Canada because of over-trapping. But the beaver, who will always be associated with Canada’s early days, has been reintroduced to many areas, and it has made a successful comeback.

After that start, the 60-second film features images of the beaver doing the things beavers do: swimming, grooming, building. This film is a nice compliment to two other Canadian films featuring Grey Owl and his beavers: Beaver People and Beaver Family.

A photo taken by Nils Thomasson during the trip to release the beavers in 1922.  The horse needed to wear special shoes to walk through the marsh. Printed in Eric Festin, "Bäverns Återinplantering," Jämten (1922)

A photo taken by Nils Thomasson during the trip to release the beavers in 1922. The horse needed to wear special shoes to walk through the marsh. Printed in Eric Festin, “Bäverns Återinplantering,” Jämten (1922)

This lucky discovery got me thinking about the visual record of the earlier Scandinavian beaver reintroductions. Eric Festin, who led the first European beaver reintroduction in 1922 made sure that the event was recorded. He hired the photographer Nils Thomasson of Åre to meet the reintroduction party at Östersund before they headed off into the mountains and swamps. The Jamtli Bildarkiv has the series of photos Thomasson took of the event. In Festin’s article about the release, the story builds to the climax as the beavers are lifted out of the box and set into the canal, “our cameras snapping rapidly, but pictures were difficult to take.” And indeed in the series of photos, none of them show the beaver being released. Thomasson was also on hand to record pictorially another beaver reintroduction in Jämtland in 1934. But it was Festin himself who managed to take a photo of a beaver in the water after that release.

When the beavers were reintroduced further north in Västerbotten, recording the event visually was also an integral part of the release: “The cameraman had his finger on the button and the film cameraman had a firm grip on the crank” when the beaver crate was opened according to Axel Andersson in 1925. If only I could find the film…

Which brings me to the issue of filming and the film that never was. On 23 June 1922, Festin wrote a letter to Svensk Filmindustri, which was in charge of making all official films at that time (I don’t have his original letter; I have only the reply, so I’m going with what that letter says here). He asked the company to make a film about the beaver reintroduction to Bjuräldalen which would occur in two weeks. The reply he got read:

Unfortunately we cannot send a photographer to follow the expedition, which in any case we do not think from a film standpoint would be significantly rewarding. We already have educational films about the beaver and his lifestyle. This would be only the release and one or another expedition moments, which would not be worth the cost. We will happily shoot the beaver and expedition’s start from Skansen, if you kindly inform us of it.

Sigh. Filming the first reintroduction of European beaver — a landmark event that would sweep through Sweden and then throughout Europe and be one of the great conservation success stories — would not be “significantly rewarding”, not worth the investment. Alas, for the historian of reintroduction this first milestone happened without being recorded on film.

Festin continued to struggle with getting the Svensk Filmindustri to even recognize beavers existed in Sweden. In 1937, he sent a letter to the Director of the company complaining that they were producing an educational film about beavers using film and script from Norway. The film, titled simply “Bävern” had been produced by Per Kviberg, who was instrumental in setting up an educational film division in Oslo in 1928. The Swedish script, which is filed in the Jamtli archive with Festin’s letter, starts with

Beaver lived at one time over much of Europe, Asia and North America. Now it is found in our part of the world in only a few places. In Norway, it is only in Sörlandet, particularly along the Nid river in Arendal.

Then it goes on with lots of beaver biology information. Festin took issue with the Filmindustri’s decision to go to Norway to make a beaver film, when there were beavers in Sweden. (Of course, he didn’t think through the fact that the Swedes were just dubbing a film that had already been made in Norway.) Considering that the script talked about Norwegian beavers, but not Swedish ones, and it was being recorded in Swedish for Swedish school children, the criticism was well placed. In any case, Festin was likely mad that a film about Swedish beavers hadn’t been made by the company. But I doubt that the letter changed anything. I can’t find any record of a film from that period about the Swedish beaver reintroduction.

And so it was, that the film never was.

When curiosity kills

On Wednesday, 22 July 1964, 74-year-old Ola Stølen noticed a muskox near his farm in Stølen, a little hamlet in a valley of the Dovre mountains of Norway. He told three other adults about the visitor. They wanted to observe the seldom-seen animal close-up, so they crept up to within 40 meters  and stood still, observing the animal for 10 minutes. After a while, the muskox began to snort and then charged the group. Ola was knocked down as the three younger adults quickly ran back to the house. When Ola got up, he grabbed a stone to try to scare away the animal, but the muskox charged again and this time gave Ola a life-ending blow to the chest.

The two men who hunted down the muskox which killed Ole Stølen. Photo from Aftenposten, 23 July 1964, morning edition.

The two men who hunted down the muskox which killed Ole Stølen. Photo from Aftenposten, 23 July 1964, morning edition.

Witnesses called the sheriff, who then contacted the regional muskox manager, John Angard in Dombås, and asked if they could kill the bull. Angard said he would come to take care of it, but before he could get there, the local sheriff and one of those who’d seen Ola killed shot the animal dead.

The local inhabitants were outraged at the death. On 19 August, a telegram signed by 122 people was sent with an ultimatum to the Ministry of Agriculture (Landbruksdepartmentet), which had imported the muskox herd:

The undersigned, all residents of Engan, Oppdal, want to make the Ministry of Agriculture aware that the tragic event Wednesday, 22 July when O. Stølen was killed by a muskox on his property, has created deep unease among folks here. We are therefore bold enough to ask the Ministry to make sure all muskox are removed from the valley between Amotseiven and Driva by Monday 24 August 1964. After this date, all muskox which are found in the said area will be shot. We hope and believe you will understand our reaction.

According to interviews in the papers, the deadline was picked because it was the first day of school. Children were scared to walk the 3-4 kilometers through the forest to school, especially since it would be dark both before and after school by late fall. Women interviewed didn’t want to leave the farm alone for fear of muskox.

Did the Ministry understand the locals’ reaction? It appears that they did take it seriously and investigated what could be done both legally and practically about the muskox. On 28 August, they issued an official response to the Oppdal sheriff saying that muskox were protected legally — the animals could not just be killed — but that a license could be issued to take down a specific muskox which was attacking people. The residents were not satisfied with the answer, but it was the legal answer.

A more important question now may be: Do we understand their reaction?

Photo captured by Ragnar Solberg in July 1954 of a muskox charging his family that had gotten close to the herd to take photos

Photo captured by Ragnar Solberg in July 1954 of a muskox charging his family that had gotten close to the herd to take photos. Photograph from Aftenposten, 13 July 1954.

Muskox attacks are not commonplace, but they had been featured several times in the newspapers in the decade before the attack on Stølen. In 1954, a family going into the mountains to pick flowers saw a herd of muskox (with calves) and decided to approach them to take pictures. They got within 30 meters before one charged them. No one was injured, but the action photo of a muskox running toward the camera showed it must have been a pretty scary experience.

In September 1963, a man tried to photograph a lone muskox that had wandered into the village of Soknedal and got thrown up in the air by the muskox’s horns. That animal had been around the village several days and had been roped on one foot and stones had been thrown at it, so I’m sure it was very tired of being bothered.

Paul Moen snapped this photo after he had been knocked down by a muskox who then went to check out Moen's friends who were up a tree. Photograph from Aftenposten, 18 September 1963.

Paul Moen snapped this photo after he had been knocked down by a muskox who then went to check out Moen’s friends who were up a tree. Photograph from Aftenposten, 18 September 1963.

Later that same month, another local man tried to take a photograph of a muskox that had made its way into Tolga, higher up in the mountains. He supposedly got within 15 meters before the animal charged. Although the photographer was knocked down, he was able to recover his camera and take a picture of the muskox standing below two of his comrades up a tree.

What I noticed about all of these incidents was that people had approached the muskox to either photograph it or observe it. They got ridiculously close to them. Today, all of the tourist information says stay 200 meters away which means I need to bring the long lens with me on my field work this summer! Muskox are generally calm animals, but they attack when they feel threatened, which is what getting close to them does. These animals were not attacking people randomly. They were attacking people that they thought were attacking them.

The response by the local community of Engan to Ola Stølan’s death was focused on the muskox. It was the muskox that needed to be removed. The spokesperson for the protest group, Olav Vammervold, was quoted in the paper as saying,

We up here live in a pact with nature, and we obviously don’t have anything against muskox, in the same way that we don’t mind any other animals. But as long as they can’t keep themselves within a particular area, they must be removed.

This pact with nature was clearly not a two-way deal. It was people who set the terms of the contract, and animals needed to obey the human rules.

No one from the local community said anything about the human behaviour that had led to the incident, but one letter to the editor of Aftenposten on 1 September pointed out that the problem was people: “Animals make us better humans. But people, who are animal’s archenemies, can make an animal furiously mad.” People needed to change their behaviour to accomodate animals, which according to the letter author, deserved to be respected.

This kind of conflict is not atypical for reintroductions. People have certain ways of doing things and don’t want to modify those routines, so when a “wild” animals roams onto their property or attacks livestock, they never think it is the human dimension that needs changing — it is always the fault of the animal. At the same time, a reintroduction brings a “new” animal to an area and people can get curious about it, bringing the animal into closer proximity to humans than it would be otherwise. When the animal turns out to behave as, well, wild animals do, again the animal is to blame rather than the human.

The issue at hand is culpability. Who is to blame when people come into conflict with reintroduced animals? I think a muskox had not killed Ola. Ola’s curiosity had killed him.


Taking to the air

When the first reintroduced beavers came to Sweden, they had to take a long and arduous journey to their new home. First, they had to be taken from their capture site near Åmli to the train station in Oslo then on via train to Stockholm. After the wintering in Skansen, they went north on the overnight train. In Östersund, they had a break and got on another train to Strömsund. After a steam boat, a horse carriage, car trip, motor boat, horse sled, and boat again, the little beavers are finally at the release site — a whopping 4 days after leaving Skansen in Stockholm.

In the first reintroduction, the box containing the beavers was put on top of hay bales to try to cushion the ride. Photograph taken by Nils Thomasson (1922), currently in the Jamtli archive.

In the first reintroduction, the box containing the beavers was put on top of hay bales to try to cushion the ride. Photograph taken by Nils Thomasson (1922), in Jamtli archive NTh621.

When Eric Festin reported on the reintroduction in “Bäverns återinplantering” (1922), he commented on the difficult journey and that some of the choices, like putting the beaver box on top of hay sacks for cushioning, would not be repeated again.

The difficulties of getting the beavers from their original home in southern Norway to a release site in mid-Sweden would be easy to forget about. But transportation technologies were absolutely critical to the success of these projects. The animals, after all, needed to make it safely. Festin even commented that the bumpy journey by horse had given these first beavers “a fever”, which luckily the tranquil boat ride that followed cured.

Twelve years after the first reintroduction project, transportation was radically different. The third set of beavers brought to Jämtland were brought in the latest in high tech travel — an airplane.

The beavers being readied for loading on the plane in Frösön. Festin on the left of the cage was the passenger with them. Photograph by Nils Thomasson, in Jamtli archive NTh15017

The beavers being readied for loading on the plane in Frösön. Festin on the left of the cage was the passenger with them. Photograph by Nils Thomasson (1934), in Jamtli archive NTh15017

Airplanes were cutting edge in the 1930s. Although the Wright Brothers had only made their first controlled powered flight in 1903, planes were rising fast in popularity. In 1933, the first regularly scheduled passenger plane service in Sweden was launched between Stockholm and Gotland using a hydroplane. And the very next year, beavers got to be transported on a hydroplane. Perhaps it was even the first use of an airplane in a reintroduction project.

The hydroplane on arrival at Leipikvattnet were the beavers would be released. Photograph by Nils Thomasson, in the Jamtli archive NTH23051.

The hydroplane on arrival at Leipikvattnet were the beavers would be released. Photograph by Nils Thomasson (1934), in the Jamtli archive NTH23051.

On October 14, 1934, a pair of beavers were sent via train from Oslo all the way to Östersund. Then they were put on a hydroplane in the custody of Erik Festin to fly to Bjurälfdalen, the site of the first beaver release. The flight took 2 hours, replacing a 2 day ground journey! I’m sure it was a much better way to travel.

Although photographs of reintroduction projects are supposedly documenting the animal brought back, what we really see is the documentation of the journey. The carts, airplanes, and boats arecentral features of the images. They enable the whole activity to take place. Whether we’re talking about carts, sleds, boats and planes carrying beavers in the 1920s and 30s or a helicopter carrying a muskox in the 2010s, travel technologies are a necessary ingredient in reintroduction projects.

Thus it’s worth thinking about how technologies and changes in available transportation options affects reintroduction: what can be introduced, how far animals can go, and what condition they will be in when they get there. A beaver may not have wings, but with a little help, they can fly.

More muskox maps

I posted before about finding a muskox on a children’s map of Sweden. I’ve had a continued interest in exploring these kind of maps images and how animals are attributed to certain areas. Searching the internet for children’s maps, I found quite a few that include animals alongside cultural symbols to represent place.

The Scandinavian section of Krüger & Schönhoff's Illustrated Map of the World

The Scandinavian section of Krüger & Schönhoff’s Illustrated Map of the World

Two of the ones I’ve seen show muskox in Norway. One is the Krüger and Schönhoff Illustrated World Map, which is available in 9 languages. It’s a decently sized wall map at 135 cm x 95 cm. It shows the whole northern half of Norway covered in snow/ice with a muskox in a spot representing where the reintroduced herd lives in Dovrefjell. I’m not sure what the Norwegians would think about half of their country being shown as ice/snow covered – it certainly isn’t in the summer months – but I can see why outsiders would think of it that way.

Closeup of Scandinavia on Dino's Children's Map of the World

Closeup of Scandinavia on Dino’s Children’s Map of the World

Dino’s Children’s Map of the World likewise has a muskox in the same place, although in this case, the muskox lives just south of trolls making merry amongst the mushrooms 🙂 There is a interesting blend of fact and fantasy going on in this map.

In both of these cases, a muskox represents the fauna of central Norway. Just as muskox has indeed come to represent that geography on local communal banners and souvenirs, the muskox is representing that geography to the wider world. These two maps appear to be some of the most available and best selling children’s maps on the market today. Children who grow up with these maps will understand the muskox as a normal part of Scandinavia.

Dino's Animals of the World map section showing northern Europe

The northern Europe section of Dino’s Animals of the World Map featuring crayfish, red deer, and reindeer (legs visible at top) in Norway and Sweden.

The inclusion of muskox as a prominent symbol of Norway isn’t of course consistently the case. The other maps I’ve seen don’t have this representation, although they are always interesting in their own right. For example, the Dino Animals of the World Map shows a noble crayfish instead of a muskox in the northern part of Norway/Sweden. This particular European species is currently declining because of a crayfish plague brought by introduced American crayfish which carry the disease but are immune to it. Several reintroduction projects have been undertaken to re-populate areas devastated by the plague, but these have had mixed success because of continued presence of the introduced crayfish disease. And almost every map I’ve seen places the European bison, which was extinct in the wild in 1927 and later reintroduced from zoo-bred individuals, as the symbol for somewhere around Poland where they were reintroduced in large numbers.

Putting animals on maps like this is not new. The Hereford Mappa Mundi shows a bear and an ape(!) in the Scandinavian peninsula near a man on skis with ski pole. An inscription for Norway from Fra Mauro’s Mappa Mundi from around 1457 says that the area has “many new kinds of animals, especially huge white bears and other savage animals.” I also previously discussed Olaus Magnus’ Carta Marina (1539), which features a plethora of animals including beavers. These medieval maps mixed fantasy and fact, much like the muskox and trolls on the current Dino map. I would say that since medieval times, mapmakers in the Western European tradition have had a propensity to put animals that they consider noteworthy or characteristic on maps. The latest incarnations of children’s maps featuring newly reintroduced muskox and European bison are simply a continuation of the tradition. The inclusion of muskox on these children’s maps tells us that modern mapmakers believe muskox are noteworthy and characteristic as Norwegian fauna.

Olaus Magnus’ map

Today I was at a symposium “Understanding North” hosted here at Umeå University and heard a paper about Olaus Magnus’ 16th century depictions of the northern Sami people. It reminded me that I had gathered some of his material, but hadn’t really looked at it. So I decided to go through it.

Olaus Magnus, who was born in Linköping, Sweden, in 1490 produced a map of Scandinavia in 1539 titled Carta Marina (images from the map by section are available from the James Ford Bell Library) and the first comprehensive book on Scandinavia in 1555 titled Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus (you can read the whole text in Latin on Projekt Runeberg).

The map includes a group of beavers moving a log via the beaver’s supposed method of having one animal lie on its back holding the log while the others drag their comrade. They are dragging the log (and beaver) to a beaver lodge made roughly of branches with leaves, from which another beaver is popping out his head. The lodge is placed on a small waterway.

Close up of the beavers on Olaus Magnus' Carta Marina, 1539. Image from the James Bell Ford Library, University of Minnesota.

Close up of the beavers on Olaus Magnus’ Carta Marina, 1539. Image from the James Bell Ford Library, University of Minnesota.

The whole scene is placed in Karelia, an area currently divided between Russia and Finland. There are no beavers elsewhere : not in Norway, which apparently Olaus thought was so urbanized that it gets only little towns all over the map and no animals; or Sweden where there are lynx, wolves, and reindeer, but no beavers.

Catching beaver illustrated in Olaus Magnus

Catching beaver with nets illustrated in Olaus Magnus, Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus, 1555

According to the Historia, there was “a great abundance of beavers in the North”. Olaus compared the beavers in the north to the populations on the Rhine, Danube, and the “marshes” of Moravia, saying that there were more beavers in the north because the waterways were quieter and non-navigable. It’s interesting to note that when Alarik Behm talked about beavers in 1920 before the reintroduction, he also compared the heavily populated Rhine and Danube areas which still had beavers to rural Sweden which had lost theirs, claiming that if the beavers can live in the busy areas, certainly they could live in Sweden.

In spite of Olaus’ claim that there were beavers everywhere, Finland is the place that gets the beavers on this 1539 map. It turns out that Finland’s beaver history follows very closely the Swedish one. The last beaver in Finland died in 1868 – just 3 years before the last confirmed beaver in Sweden. In 1935-36, only 13 years after the first Swedish reintroduction, 19 beavers from Norway were reintroduced in Finland. (I’m guessing that these beavers were from the same source in Aamli since it appears that those guys did some beaver marketing, but I’ll have to do some more work to confirm that.)

The big mistake was that the next year, 7 North American beavers were also set out in Finland. I’ve read the excuse for the Finnish Castor canadensis introduction as “it was not known that the two beavers belonged to two different species”. Such a claim doesn’t seem to pass historical muster — the scientific work being done at Skansen clearly used different scientific names and these were the accepted names for the two types of beaver; I also know that Skansen had regular dealings with zoologists in Finland so the Finns were plugged into the larger scientific networks. Nevertheless, the North American beavers were let go and estimates in 1999 were that the North American beaver population had reached 12,000 whereas the European beaver population was only 1,500.

Olaus’ placement of the beavers in Karelia/Finland probably had a lot to do with the way he imagined wilderness. That whole section of the map is full of animals, including dangerous ones attacking people and livestock. Only the far northern parts of Sweden have a similar ‘wild’ quality. The beaver, which the mapmaker says preferred the quiet rural stream, is placed in a relatively remote section away from urban settlement. Those ‘wilderness’ places were the same types of environments that the 20th-century restorationists sought out for their reintroduction projects — places off the beaten path but on their maps.

Wilding the domesticated

Land mammals of Britain fold out

Land mammals of Britain fold out brochure from the Field Studies Council

When I was at Wicken Fen near Cambridge last week, I bought a full color, glossy brochure titled Guide to the land mammals of Britain published by the Field Studies Council (an educational charity) for my daughter. She likes animals so I thought it would be a good lightweight, easy to carry gift. And she did indeed find it interesting.

I found it interesting as well, but for a different reason. I looked closely at the animals that had been included in the brochure, which features photos on one side and a paragraph write-up of each animal on the reverse. It turns out that 10 of the 36 animals pictured have been introduced to the British Isles by people, including the rabbit, grey squirrel, black & common rats, edible dormouse, mink, and 4 kinds of deer. The text for all of these includes a statement about the introduction, giving the time frame and/or place of origin — except for the rabbit. The rabbit’s introduction is not mentioned at all.

Catching rabbits from a warren. Queen Mary Psalter, BL Royal MS 2 B VII, fol. 155v. Courtesy of the British Library Digitised Manuscripts.

Catching rabbits from a warren. Queen Mary Psalter, BL Royal MS 2 B VII, fol. 155v. Courtesy of the British Library Digitised Manuscripts website.

The rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) was introduced to England after the Norman conquest in the mid to late 12th century. Rabbits were not brought over to run around free. They were specifically brought to England as livestock. Artificial rabbit warrens were constructed on estates, often in conjunction with deer parks, to farm rabbits. While there are native English hares (these also make an appearance on the brochure), the rabbit has been resident for a little over eight centuries, and this is less than some of the others whose introduction was mentioned, like the black rat which the authors write ‘was established in Britain by Roman times’ from Asia.

But the rabbit’s introduction is not the only thing missing. If you look at the picture, you realize that there are in fact some animals missing that are roaming around Britain, including the wild boar. It turns out that some of these missing animals are discussed in the text on the backside:

Other free-living ‘domesticated’ and introduced mammals may be seen in some areas. Free-living herds of ponies occur in the Welsh mountain, New Forest, Dartmoor and Exmoor. These are managed herds and all have owners. Herds of feral goats may be seen in parts of Scotland, the Cheviots and North Devon. These stocky hardy goats are descended from the goats of Celtic and Roman farmers. A mix of escapees and deliberate releases from wild boar farms have resulted in established breeding populations…

In this text, the authors have justified the exclusion of some animals from the picture section based on their ‘farmed’ history. Ponies, goats, and boar were all farmed. It seemingly doesn’t matter that the feral goats have been roaming around free for nearly 1000 years longer than the Muntjac deer introduced from China in 19th century. Previous farm animals don’t make the list.

Well, except the rabbit. The rabbit made it over the bridge from previously farmed to now wild animal. Perhaps this is because the rabbit is so much like the hare and not too many people farm rabbits any more so they have stopped being associated with their domestic roots. Perhaps the British classic The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, which sets up the wild rabbit family in opposition to Mr. McGregor’s farm, has made us forget that British rabbits too previously lived on farms. The once domesticated is now wild.


Putting muskox on the map

Today I bought my daughters a children’s map book, Kartboken för alla barn (2012). It’s a big format book with thick cardboard pages that seems perfect for my kids to take a look at all the places they’ve been and the ones we’ll be headed to next. Like many children’s atlases, this one has little pictures of animals, crops, and major sites (like the Eiffel tower) in different places to represent the “essence” of each place. While the majority of the book was drawn for the Italian company that first published the book, a special two-page Sweden map was drawn up for this Swedish edition.

Part of the map of Sweden from Kartboken för alla barn (2012). A muskox appears at the fold of the two pages in Härjedalen.

Part of the map of Sweden from Kartboken för alla barn (2012). A muskox appears at the fold of the two pages in Härjedalen.

Much to my delight, I found a muskox had been drawn as one of the three icons in Härjedalen (the others are a bear and a cow). This image is of course a fabulous one to think about in light of reintroduction.

A small herd of five muskox broke off from the main Dovrefjell herd in Norway and migrated over the border to Sweden in 1971. The herd grew to a maximum of about 30 animals in the 1980s, but it has declined since. In 2009, the herd was down to 7. As of a couple of weeks ago, none of the muskox had been seen since the autumn by the folks at Rädda Myskoxarna, an advocate group for Swedish muskox conservation. If they’ve ended up with the same illnesses as the Norwegian herd, then they might not be seen alive again.

However, there is also a herd of six muskox kept in Härjedalen at the Myskoxcentrum, where they live in a large enclosure. The center was set up both as a visitor attraction and to breed calves, with the intent of releasing them with the wild herd to increase the genetic variability (as you can imagine, the wild herd has been quite inbred since it started with only 5 animals).

Like in Dovrefjell, the muskox has been integrated into Härjedalen. On the Rädda Myskoxarna webpage, this is what they say about muskox (my translation):

Muskox has become a symbol – almost a brand – for Funäsdalen and Härjedalen. Its existence gives legitimacy to our wilderness profile, and it lives in peaceful coexistence with all the inhabitants. Muskoxen are mythical and mysterious, and are a rare exotic contribution to our fauna.

In this text, muskox aren’t claimed as reintroduced natives – they are exotics – but they are claimed as a symbol, a brand. And that’s exactly the status they have been given on the children’s map: Härjedalen is branded with muskox.

I think it is texts and images like this map aimed at children that shape the way society-at-large thinks about what belongs and what doesn’t. That’s why I’m including places of public outreach like museums and zoos, as well as school books and images in my research project. Questions about nativeness and belonging are not restricted to the scientific sphere. My children will look at this map with its little muskox icon and understand that muskox are and should be in Härjedalen, Sweden.

It’s a zoo out there

I spent 5 1/2 hours in the library and archives of the Nordiska Museet today. I wanted to find out more about Skansen’s involvement in the beaver reintroduction, and since Skansen was at one time joined with the Nordiska Museet, they hold the early Skansen zoo correspondence.

The most striking thing about the incoming correspondance to Skansen between 1901 and 1925 was how many people offered to sell animals to the zoo. There were offers for farm animals, including goats, sheep, cattle, and donkeys, as well as birds like ducks and geese. Some even offered to sell their dogs (mind you, Skansen actually did have an exhibit of ‘Nordic’ dog breeds so the offer was not as weird as it sounds now). There were lots of people clearly selling babies whose mothers had been killed by hunters: moose calves, roe deer fawns, fox kits, and bear cubs. The great majority of the offers were for wild birds, everything from owls to hawks to crows (yes, plain regular black crows).

On top of the personal letters, lots of animal dealers, particularly in Germany and Finland, sent regular catalogs and lists of available specimens with their prices. There were also plenty of people who thought the zoo was somewhere they could buy animals, so they requested prices for a pair of swans or a flock of birds to stock their personal ponds.

Postcard sent with an offer to sell a tame badger to Skansen, 1919. From the Skansen correspondence in the Nordiska Museet archive.

Postcard sent with an offer to sell a tame badger to Skansen, 1919. From the Skansen correspondence in the Nordiska Museet archive.

But my favorite was a offer on 24 September 1919 from Axel Parlson of Hösterum farm near Söderköping to sell a badger female. She had grown up with the family and their dog and was completely tame. She was very friendly and would eat anything from the kitchen, although she loved moistened corn. The best part was that the postcard on which the letter was written had a photo on the other side — of the badger with the children. I wonder if the girls knew that their dad was trying to sell off their prized pet? And I wonder about the cost of making such a postcard – this wasn’t a pasted on photo, but rather one printed as the postcard – did the owner expect that the zoo would pay a lot for the animal? Did the family have a whole set of these that they used whenever writing correspondance or was it a one-time printing for this occasion?

There were also some odd ball requests, like the orphanage that wanted to borrow a pair of bear cubs for a Children’s Day or the guy who wanted to know how to build an enclosure for a tame seal. But the best of these was a festival committee that wanted to know whether or not a live crocodile could be put out as part of an exhibition between May and September in southern Sweden. They did not say where they were planning on getting the crocodile or what would happen to it afterward.

Advertisement asking for offers to sell mammals and birds

Advertisement asking for offers to sell mammals and birds

Of course all these requests must not have been a surprise to Alarik Behm, the director of Skansen. He ran regular advertisements in the newspapers declaring that the zoo “buys various mammals and birds for the going price” and instructing the readers to mail or telephone in an offer. I guess you get what you ask for.

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