The drive along the E6 from Gothenburg to the small area of Hunnebostrand in Western Sweden was the perfect first introduction to the landscapes of Sweden. Spring had not yet arrived, but it was threatening and the earliest buds and blades of grass were beginning to emerge. We followed this vernal path through forests and along lakes until our car dutifully let us know that we had arrived in a light and nearly perfect Swedish accent. In front of us sat an ark, a little more literal of an interpretation than I had anticipated, but I soon learned that was merely the public face of what is an extraordinary facility.
My partner and I were met at the gate by our guide and overall great guy, Tom Svensson who spent the afternoon explaining the mission of the facility to us. Norden’s Ark is a 383-hectare facility that started in 1989 in order to give endangered animals a future. So much more than just a zoo, the Ark performs breeding, research & education and efforts to disseminate knowledge about biological diversity. Their focus may be on Nordic and exotic animals, but the work performed at the Ark helps animals around the world.
I love animals and making sure that I keep conservation in mind when I travel is essential, and it can be a difficult thing to figure out at times to be honest. More than once I have fallen prey to an activity that clearly was not in the animal’s best interest, and I have regretted those thankfully few encounters greatly. Norden’s Ark is of course different. Talking with Tom was the first indication. A corporate drop out, he joined the staff fifteen years ago with no formal training but a fierce desire to make the world a better place. That’s actually one of the things I love about the Swedish psyche; there’s a deep-rooted belief that we all have a role in helping others. It may seem simple, all too logical, but I can tell you that it’s also an all too rare character trait.
Walking alongside the tiger den where the extraordinarily rare Amur tiger had recently given birth to a litter of cubs was heartwarming, but frightening. I wasn’t frightened of the tigers, no I was frightened by the stark reality of what is happening to so many breeds of animals out there. This noble creature that once ruled areas in Russian’s eastern mountains is now limited to just 300 proud animals. The tiger at Norden’s Ark is one of the best biological examples, which makes this successful birth an extraordinary event.
That was the theme of the day for me as we walked by wolves and lynxes, wild horses and snow leopards. These animals are all at the massive Ark facility for a reason. Yes their individual lives were in danger at one point but they are also representatives of the last of their species. Imagine that; many of the stunning and graceful creatures who now call Sweden home may not exist in another century, if not sooner. That’s ultimately the goal of the Ark. To do everything possible to prevent that dismal future and to make sure our kids and their kids after them can live in a world where these animals once again roam.
I left that day not sad though, but happy. Happy to have found one of the most remarkable animal recovery facilities in the world; to have met Tom and most importantly to have done something personally, by just being there, to help these animals survive.
So when you find yourself in Sweden, take a drive along the E6, maybe even stop for a nice lunch somewhere but don’t miss the opportunity to spend a day with the animals at Norden’s Ark.