images,  muskox

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.

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