beaver,  images,  museum

In life or death

Although reintroduction is about bringing a species back, some individual animals never make it to their destination.

Take the first three beavers bought by Västerbottens läns jaktvårdsförening (County wildlife management association) to reintroduce in the Tärnaån. Their first beaver, a female, was bought for 123 kr (about 3000 kr / $500 today) on 15 February 1923 and taken to Skansen for overwintering. It got enteritis (inflammation of the small intestine) and died in the spring. On 18 October that year, a beaver pair was bought for 800 kr (check out that price escalation!) and again taken to Skansen. They were infected with some kind of “plague” by a hare recently bought from Finland. You have to remember that a beaver death was not something to shirk at. There were only a few hundred beavers left in Norway where these individuals came from.

Beaver skeleton on display at the Umeå läroverks museum, 1926

But one’s loss is another’s gain. Since beavers were rare, beaver specimens for scientific work and display were also rare. One of the dead beavers was bought by the Riksmuseet (Museum of Natural History) for its skeleton. The skin of another was given as a gift to V. Åström, the county official heading much of the reintroduction effort. The third was sold to the Umeå högre allmänna läroverk (Umeå’s high school). That specimen was put on display as both a stuffed beaver and a skeleton in the läroverkets museum.

Stuffed beaver (the skin from the same individual as the skeleton) at the Umeå läroverks museum, 1926

These beavers that never made it to their new wild home in Sweden got a second life in death. Combining many of the types of histories covered in Afterlives of Animals, the three beavers became objects of scientific study, personal memorabilia, and public education.

It might be interesting to try to find these individual specimens. I haven’t attempted it yet. But even if they don’t still physically exist, they live on through the reintroduction story.

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