My last post was about muskox in museums, so I wanted to follow up with one about beavers, the other reintroduced species I’m currently working with.
Beavers have a very different presentation in exhibits than muskox. They are often in dioramas of woodland animals, along with other animals like foxes, grouse, and even bears. This is the case at both the Biologiska museet in Stockholm and the Frösö zoo exhibit.
Beavers are rarely the centre of attention, sitting often either at the viewer’s feet or tucked away in a corner, like in the Dovre National Park Center or the Vitenskapsmuseet in Trondheim.
And very often, the beavers are taxidermied in positions of work cutting down trees, which is probably the thing most people think of when they think of beavers.
Beavers are presented in these exhibits as ordinary and ubiquitous. They don’t have any stories told about them. No narratives of destruction or success grace the walls around them. If you didn’t know better (and most people don’t), you’d assume that European beavers have always been here in great numbers.
Except in one case. At the Västerbottens museum in my hometown of Umeå, the exhibit on nature and environment of the county featured a beaver right near the entrance.
The beaver is presented much like in the other museums, beavering away at cutting down trees. But the text around the beaver’s case tells his complex story. In one section, a map gives all the places in the country with Bjur-, the old Swedish prefix meaning beaver, explaining that this shows how important hunting beaver was historically.
The other side tells a short history of the beaver’s extinction in 1871, followed by its protection in 1873 (a little too late!), and its reintroduction to Västerbotten country in 1924, which I discussed here. In this one case, the beaver’s history in Scandinavia is part of its presentation to the public. Unfortunately, the museum is currently undergoing renovation and all of the exhibits in this section have been removed. I do not know if this story will continue to be available to future generations.
I’ve mused before about whether or not the success of the beaver’s reintroduction might bring failure. Could it become so successful that it is thought indestructible yet becomes threatened by humans? Whether or not that happens, what these museum exhibits show is that there is a real risk of forgetting the beaver’s story. The beaver has become so ubiquitous that its once-upon-a-time rarity has disappeared from view.