Sometimes your clothes are more important than your camera gear. That was certainly the case when we went out to photograph the only wild herd of muskoxen in Sweden. Currently, a group of seven individuals lives in the alpine region of eastern Härjedalen, close to the Norwegian border. There used to be only six, but a few weeks ago a new individual was introduced to the herd. This was young “Idun”, a two year old female born in captivity in the local “Myskoxcentrum”. The centre not only works with breeding but also with sharing knowledge about this fascinating species, which has become a strong symbol for the area.
Our mission for the day was to photograph and film the herd and its latest addition. In the morning we jumped onto snowmobiles together with the local conservationists and staff from the Myskoxcentrum, who wanted to see if the introduction had been successful and whether Idun had been accepted into the group. The weather conditions in the valley, where we started, were relatively comfortable at a few degrees above freezing. But we were heading to higher altitudes.
Three majestic, snow-covered peaks were home to the herd this winter. The newly introduced female had been lifted by helicopter from the valley and released onto one of them. We got closer and started searching the white, wintry landscape. The animal keeper who had cared for Idun at the centre had a feeling about where they might be, and took our party up to a pass between two smaller peaks and from there on foot. Up here we were completely exposed to the ever- changing weather of the mountains. A strong wind ripped into our clothes and we noticed bands of falling snow closing in on us from different directions. But we continued onwards.
Just as we were about to give up our search, we came over one last ridge and there they were. All seven of them, lying on a mountain shelf some 80 metres away. We reversed our tracks a short distance and tried to calm our excitement. We had found them! After preparing our camera gear we slowly moved back up over the ridge again to get a clear line of sight. The wind threw snow at us as we moved slowly so as not to disturb the animals. The wind-chill was biting, instantly numbing any exposed skin. Luckily we all had thick, windproof clothes, with warm hats and gloves. Thanks to being properly dressed, we were able to take unique and beautiful images of the newly expanded herd of wild Swedish muskoxen.
Remember this when you want to get out and take remarkable winter pictures:
• Check the weather forecast, but remember that the weather can change rapidly in mountain areas.
• Prepare yourself for expected and unexpected events. Familiarise yourself with the area and bring maps, gps and a compass. Use local knowledge and local people that know the area.
• Make sure someone back home knows your plans and can call for help if necessary.
• Dress properly to keep warm at all times: remember the wind-chill factor and rapidly changing weather conditions. Dress in layers so you can easily adjust what you are wearing as and when necessary.
With thanks to our friends at the non-profit organisation Photographers for Conservation. www.photographersforconservation.com