The Economist had a small piece recently (February 17-23, 2007) on the suggestion by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper that his country drop the beaver as their animal brand in favor of the wolverine. Other than its association with the University of Michigan, which uses the wolverine as its mascot, I hadn't ever given this animal much thought. I figured it might be like a badger, although, come to think of it, I don't know that much about badgers, either. Other than its association with the University of Wisconsin, all I think I know about the badger is that it burrows and it's fierce.
On looking up the wolverine, however, I find that it's not got anything to do with the badger. It is, in fact, a fat weasel. And that's the least of the wolverine's image problems. According to The Economist, "they emit a foul-smelling musk and eat carrion. They are close relatives of skunks and their name translates as 'glutton' in French."
Surely, Mr. Harper must have some other wolverine characteristics in mind.
But whatever else he's thinking, given the strong association of the wolverine with Michigan, isn't there some type of mascot-napping at play here? Yet again the Canadians are doing something derivative, borrowing once more from Big Daddy to the south. I can't think that this choice will do much for Canadian pride.
Yes, overall, the wolverine seems a peculiar choice.
But why does Canada need a new animal to begin with? What's wrong with the beaver? Is the image too earnest, too diligent, too industrious, too hard working? Is the beaver, in fact, too Canadian-like and too boring?
The Economist suggests the moose, and that's not half-bad, even though when I think moose, I tend to think the State of Maine (and moose-tracks ice cream). Maine, come to think of it, has a couple of good animals associated with it: black bears (yet another great ice cream flavor) and lobsters. In Massachusetts, we're at something of an animal deficit when compared to Maine: the cod and the Boston Terrier, i.e., something with no personality whatsoever and something yapping.
Canada could, I suppose, go with the polar bear. Maine's got the black bear, California's got the golden bear, and Russia's got the big, bad bear, but I don't think the polar bear is taken. Of course, Canada might not want to associate themselves that closely with something that makes people think both cold, endangered, and marooned on an ice floe.
If they want something a bit fiercer than what they've been going with, I'm sure that their woods are full of all kinds of cats: cougars, bobcats, and mountain lions. Nice visuals, nice attributes: fierce, agile. Unfortunate association with eating joggers when their habitat's encroached on, but other than that...
No, if I were running Canada, I think I'd stick with the beaver. It's outdoorsy and woodsy. It works well with the Maple Leaf; it doesn't clash with the Mounties. And, as I said, earnest and hard-working. A country could do a lot worse.