Animals

Squirrels With Personalities: Cheeky Photos Reveal the Fun Side of Squirrels—It’s All Too Relatable

BY Anna Mason TIMEJuly 15, 2023 PRINT

Johnny Kääpä has a special connection with squirrels. The 57-year-old photographer from Gothenburg, Sweden, takes magical close-up pictures showing the emotions of the little creatures.

Birds just don’t do it for Mr. Kääpä.

“Squirrels have some kind of personality that I feel birds don’t have,” he told The Epoch Times.

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(Courtesy of Johnny Kääpä)
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“Behold, the squirrel maestro, conducting a symphony of silliness!”. (Courtesy of Johnny Kääpä)
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“The joker”. (Courtesy of Johnny Kääpä)
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Photographer Johnny Kääpä. (Courtesy of Johnny Kääpä)

A dedicated squirrel chaser, Mr. Kääpä worked as a waiter and a salesman before being bitten by the photography bug and starting his passion project in a nature park in the city.

“I saw this squirrel jumping about,” he said, “and I started running after it. I had to get a little close to it to be able to get a good picture. And they’re fast. But they’re also curious.”

According to Mr. Kääpä, if you run after a squirrel, you’ll start to pique its interest: “What is happening? Why is this guy trying to chase me? Does he have food?”

Finally snapping a photo, Kääpä was amused to see the squirrel appeared to be smiling; and from that day on, he was smitten.

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“I’ve got you buddy.” (Courtesy of Johnny Kääpä)
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“97, 98, 99, 100.. here I come.” (Courtesy of Johnny Kääpä)
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“In the frame.” (Courtesy of Johnny Kääpä)

Mr. Kääpä began visiting another big park, trying to track the animals and make them approach him, or at least stay close by.

“There I was, once again chasing squirrels; running around; jumping over rocks and logs,” he said.

Again, the creatures seemed to become curious about this human chasing around after them. “Even if you feel you’ve lost them, they’ll be somewhere up in a tree looking at you, and then you can take another few pictures.”

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Johnny Kääpä)
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(Courtesy of Johnny Kääpä)
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“Curious”. (Courtesy of Johnny Kääpä)

With these fresh pictures posted on social media, Mr. Kääpä got a big reaction from people who loved his work.

Already an established concert and landscape photographer, though, he had to have a word with himself. He’d purchased his first camera back in 2010, starting a professional company; even going on to photograph the Queen of Sweden, with one of the pictures ending up in the royal court.

Mr. Kääpä says he told himself that “this is not a squirrel account that I’m running.” It shouldn’t just be squirrels but it has to be a mix. But, he says he found out “people like consistency.” So, a squirrel focus it was, with Mr. Kääpä taking hundreds of pictures, uploading 30 or so each time.

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“Little charmer”. (Courtesy of Johnny Kääpä)

When summer came around, however, all the squirrels seemed to disappear. Mr. Kääpä later learned that in the area he frequented, the adult squirrels move away during summer, leaving the youngsters alone to learn to fend for themselves since there’s plenty of food for them to eat. The adults then return in the fall.

The passionate photographer went back to concentrating on concerts and music events, but then the 2020 pandemic arrived, and restrictions on socializing meant that everything he’d built as a photographer was “practically ruined.” Having nothing to do, he went squirrel hunting.

“It’s a hit-and-miss situation. So, I was kind of stressed out just sitting there and nothing happening,” he said. “I should say that I quickly stopped running after squirrels. Instead, I went to a specific place that felt like a little sanctuary to me.”

He had discovered this place along with a friend who was more interested in birds. “He fed the birds; I fed the squirrels. And our consistency made the squirrels come to this place a lot more often,” Mr. Kääpä said.

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“I’ve been expecting you”. (Courtesy of Johnny Kääpä)
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“Well chuffed”. (Courtesy of Johnny Kääpä)
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“Tadah”. (Courtesy of Johnny Kääpä)

While it wasn’t especially productive in terms of results, their habit of visiting meant they built a bond with the animals in the area. One day, after failing to get any pictures, Mr. Kääpä was feeling disappointed and was about to go home when he looked over into the forest and saw a squirrel on the other side of a small stream.

“I had been alone, not talking to anyone,” he said. “So I called out to it, as you do in the forest. ‘Hello, come here.’

“And it has happened sometimes afterwards, but this was the first time I had this connection with a wild animal. Because the squirrel stopped, and she looked at me. And she came running to me. I said ‘God, what’s happening?’ And this squirrel had a split ear, so I called her Half-Ear.”

A little game then ensued, with Mr. Kääpä placing nuts on a rock, the squirrel collecting them and scampering off to hide them before returning and repeating the process. It went on for a good half hour. But, says Mr. Kääpä, the squirrel wouldn’t run off before posing for a picture.

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Johnny Kääpä. (Courtesy of Johnny Kääpä)

Mr. Kääpä said: “A wild animal wouldn’t realize what’s happening, but it felt like this one did because she’d stop for a second or two so I could take some pictures.”

A strong bond began to form between the two, with Mr. Kääpä always recognizing Half-Ear at once due to her special feature. The accident-prone squirrel would later lose the tip of her tail, and then the second half of the tail, but her original nickname stuck.

One particular picture in Kääpä’s collection stands out: a squirrel holding a heart, and Half-Ear is the subject.

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Half-Ear the squirrel used to love posing for pictures for Mr. Kääpä. (Courtesy of Johnny Kääpä)

“[Half-Ear] just looks at me as she held it, like, ‘Is this what you want?’” said Mr. Kääpä who says that later, the squirrel would run up his leg to take nuts from his hand.

“It’s not something that I wanted to do because I have respect for the wild animals and that they can bite, and they can bite really hard. But she never did. She was very gentle. She would sniff my fingers and my thumb; maybe have a small nibble, but that’s just something they do, it’s said, to show affection.”

Their interactions went on for another two years or so until Half-Ear died. But not before last fall, when Mr. Kääpä brought some red and yellow leaves with him, plus some apples, creating a little scene.

“Half-Ear was running towards me when she saw me, and she stopped and looked at all this, as though to say ‘What’s happening here?’ And then she ran to me and continued and it was okay.”

She had become quite old for a wild squirrel, Mr. Kaapa said: “I think she was 5 years. And they’re usually only 3 years. She was very special. It felt like almost a kind of love.”

Check out more photos below:

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Johnny Kääpä)
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“Tyrannosaurus nut”. (Courtesy of Johnny Kääpä)
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(Courtesy of Johnny Kääpä)
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“Hang on little buddy”. (Courtesy of Johnny Kääpä)
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(Courtesy of Johnny Kääpä)
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(Courtesy of Johnny Kääpä)
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“Perfect pose”. (Courtesy of Johnny Kääpä)

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Anna Mason is a writer based in England. She has a degree in Literature and a curiosity about people and places that formal education would not satiate. Anna enjoys storytelling, adventures, the Balearic sunshine and the Yorkshire rain.
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