Busy as a Beaver

Happy news! The Eurasian beaver, which was hunted into extinction in England by the 12th century and was wiped out in Scotland by the 1500s, is back! Some reintroduced wild beavers in Devon, England have produced the first kits in 400 years or so. Happy!!

“Tom Buckley, a retired scientist and wildlife enthusiast from Ottery St Mary who captured the footage of the beavers and kits, said he was ‘totally overwhelmed’ when he saw them. ‘My first sighting of this year’s new born kits was when I saw their mother swimming with one of them in her mouth to an area nearby where their father was waiting to greet them.‘One of the kits, however, seemed extremely unhappy to be out in the big, wide world and as soon as its mother let it go rushed back to its burrow. Not surprising really – the world can be a very scary place.’”

The beavers are currently at home on the River Otter (gotta love that), which was the subject of a famous 18th century Coleridge poem called, aptly enough, Sonnet to the River Otter:

Dear native brook! wild streamlet of the West!
How many various-fated years have passed,
What happy and what mournful hours, since last
I skimmed the smooth thin stone along thy breast,
Numbering its light leaps! Yet so deep impressed
Sink the sweet scenes of childhood, that mine eyes
I never shut amid the sunny ray,
But straight with all their tints thy waters rise,
Thy crossing plank, thy marge with willows grey,
And bedded sand that, veined with various dyes,
Gleamed through thy bright transparence! On my way,
Visions of childhood! oft have ye beguiled
Lone manhood’s cares, yet waking fondest sighs:
Ah! that once more I were a careless child!

Otters, which almost became extinct in Briton in the 1980s thanks to pollution and were saved by the efforts of Philip Wayre,  are not very closely related to beavers, even though a lot of people think they are. In actuality, otters are members of the weasel family, while beavers are rodents. The greatest commonality between them is that they enjoy similar habitat and people have been overly fond of their fur.

Strange as it may seem, the North American beaver and the Eurasian beaver cannot interbreed, despite how similar they look to the untrained eye, because they are too genetically distinct. “North American beavers have 40 chromosomes, while Eurasian beavers have 48. More than 27 attempts were made in Russia to hybridize the two species, with one breeding between a male North American beaver and a female European resulting in a single stillborn kit.” They do, however, build extremely similar kinds of dams.

I am very glad to see that beavers and otters have become part of the English fauna again. Beavers have also been reintroduced in Scotland, and they are making babies as well, and there are plans afoot to bring beavers back to Wales. Otters, now no longer inundated with pesticide pollution, have also made a roaring comeback in Scotland and Wales.

Huzzah for the furry aquatic mammal!

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