The beaver whisperer

I’m not the kind of person who reads the obituaries in the newspaper, but today I was delighted to find the obit for P. M. Jensen (also known as Jensen-Tveit) from 1 October 1963.

Beaver-Jensen (as he is called in his obit in Aftenposten) of Aamli, Norway, caught beavers that were released in Sweden, Latvia, Germany, and Poland according to the text written in honor of the 82 year old. While I can’t yet confirm all of those, I do know that he was involved in the Swedish, northern Norwegian, and Finnish reintroductions. The Västerbotten county wildlife management association bought 10 beavers from him (although some of those died in Stockholm at Skansen before they could be released) for a total sum of 2,892.94 Swedish kroner in 1924. In summer 1927, he provided a pair of beavers to the zoo in Helsinki, Finland. He also provided three beavers reintroduced in Älvdalen in northern Dalarna, Sweden, in 1927. On that occasion, Jensen came with the beavers to oversee the release.

The Norwegian beaver expert P. M. Jensen-Tveit with a beaver kit. From Erik Geete, "Bävern i Sverige och Norge," Skogen, 1929.
The Norwegian beaver expert P. M. Jensen with a beaver kit. From Erik Geete, “Bävern i Sverige och Norge,” Skogen, 1929.

This trait — overseeing the beavers from their capture through to release — was highlighted in his obit. The other Norwegian beaver provider from Aamli, Sigurd Salvesen, had commented in a 1928 article that a caretaker was really necessary when beavers were shipped; several of his shipped without one had died shortly after arriving because of poor feeding routines along the way. But in Jensen’s obit, his attention to the beaver was not framed as an animal welfare issue, even though it could have been. Rather, his attention was patriotic according to the obit:

“They must have the last goodbye in Norwegian when they are set free a long way from home,” he said and patted the animal like a father on the neck. This laying on of the hands would have resulted in one hand less had it been anyone other than Beaver-Jensen, but he and the freshly caught beavers understood each other.

The Norwegian-ness of the beavers and Jensen was critical to Jensen’s friend who wrote the obit. Those beavers needed those last words whispered in Norwegian to them to remind them of who they were and were they were from. They would always be Norwegian beavers, no matter how far from home.

This is a clear reminder for us that reintroduction is most often thought of within nation-state boundaries. Those geopolitical lines we have drawn on the map matter to the way people understand what they were doing, even though there may be no significant geological or ecological differences between the catch and release areas. Swedes talked about beaver being extinct in Sweden, and that’s what mattered. Norwegians talked about providing Norwegian beavers to the rest of Europe. The national and natural are intertwined.

Jensen was always identified in articles about the reintroduction efforts as both a beaver expert and exporter, but he was more than that. As this Norwegian expert sent his Norwegian exports off into their new homes, I’m sure he whispered, “Lykke til.”

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