In August of 2018, we received a call about a young beaver that had fallen 25 feet from a concrete wall into a dry reservoir of a dam. The drop had miraculously not killed the three-month old, 10-pound animal, but he was hurting, and easily captured by the maintenance workers at the dam, with the help of Jolene, a wildlife rehabilitator friend in the area.
Beaver do not leave their home lodge until they are at least two years old and 50-60 pounds--so we knew tragedy had struck this little beaver's family to leave him separated in such a dangerous place. The maintenance workers at the dam had first seen a little beaver a month prior, so he had been struggling even before he was injured. We were so glad to get him into care that evening.
The little beaver was very frightened and cowered in the corner of his transport carrier. He would not allow himself to be handled and he was also suffering from shock and stress, but we needed to do some kind of exam. Anesthesia is dangerous for animals like this little one, so we palpated for fractures and other injuries as best as we could. It was obvious that his left hind leg was injured, possibly fractured as he was not walking on it--but if a fracture existed it was too high for a surgical pin, and would have to heal on its own. We let the little beaver out of his carrier and he moved clumsily past us to the farthest corner of his new habitat.
Beaver that come to Fellow Mortals are housed in pool habitats. They are quite large, with heated concrete for comfort and a place to pile logs for a lodge, and they have deep pools for swimming, diving, and defecating. Beaver only go to the bathroom in water.
As weeks and then months went by, the little beaver grew and gradually was putting weight on the hind leg and foot, then walking normally, and then swimming well by paddling with both feet and legs. And his first winter passed.
In June of 2019, a days-old beaver was rescued from out of the Wisconsin River--again surviving against all odds after being torn from her family far too early. Young beaver are not waterproof for several months after birth and the parents and protective older siblings would never have let this young one out of their care. Yet again a beaver family had been destroyed, probably through the destruction of their lodge, something that is far too common across the United States, where humans have still to appreciate that wild species each have a unique purpose, and beaver in particular both create and sustain habitat for other wild species and humans.
The good part of the new baby coming to Fellow Mortals was that we would hopefully have a companion for our first beaver, who we identifed as 'Prairie,' after where he was found. Since the new baby came in June, she was identified as 'Juniper.' We don't 'name' the wild patients in our care, but we do have to identify them, and we find that a descriptive works as a short-hand and is much more efficient in identifying animals than a number system such as B184 and J195 for example.
Beaver have internal genitalia, so there is no way of knowing the sex of a beaver for sure without x-ray, but there are some physiological indicators that seem to be quite accurate, such as the shape of the tail, and the personality. Male beaver are much less industrious in our experience, while female beaver are always very busy. While we had not been able to x-ray 'Prairie' at admit, we were able to x-ray the days-old baby and knew she was female, so we were hopeful the two beaver could be put together and released together when they were both old enough.
All was going well, and then we noticed that 'Prairie' was not eating hard food, even though he was gnawing wood for his lodge. After a period of observation and careful examination, we saw that his upper incisors had overgrown and his teeth were maloccluded. He would need to see a dentist. Luckily, we have a dentist with beaver experience!
Beaver are the largest rodent in North America. They average 60 pounds as adults and the record for the largest beaver is for one in Wisconsin that weighed 110 pounds! Rodents teeth grow throughout their lifetime, so if they are injured and the bite is affected, they can die from the teeth growing into their skull.
Our human dentist is a great sport, and Dr. Ann had teamed with our veterinarian Dr. Chris in the past, when they worked on another young beaver that had malocclusion as a result of injuries. They coordinated schedules and soon the beaver had a visit booked from the Beaver Team.
This time--anesthesia was absolutely necessary--and the beaver was sedated for the procedure, which went quickly, with Dr. Ann trimming nearly an inch from each upper incisor.
Since we had the opportunity, we were also able to take x-rays, and we were astonished at the extent of the healed fracture of the hind leg, which Dr. Chris determined was entirely functional and not painful. Seeing the fracture site made us even more aware of what this little animal had gone through in his first months of life. We were also able to determine without a doubt that 'Prairie' was indeed a male. We could see the bony organ called an 'ospenis' clearly on the x-ray.
As soon as he began to wake, we returned 'Prairie' to his habitat next door to 'Juniper,' where he rested in a cuddly blanket until waking up to clean off all the human germs, and to take a bath.
Strawberries, blueberries, apples, yams, spinach and rodent chow are all being devoured eagerly this winter, and 'Prairie' and 'Juniper' continue to grow toward release.
Beaver tooth enamel is orange from iron
X-ray of healed leg fracture
Our Beaver Team