Northwest nature log: Caring for a brave creature

Beaver

I think beavers get kind of a bad rap as interesting animals. I have to admit I wasn’t enthralled with beavers either until we moved to a place on the water where I get to see them. It’s usually at the end of the day, or early in the morning when the water is completely still except for the perfect arrow created by a beaver swimming slowly up stream. Silently they make their way through silver water. I was able to get to know one beaver very well while working at the Wildlife Center.

Oddly, this beaver was found in a parking lot. It was in a nearby seaside town, not far from a small river. She was so weak she couldn’t escape from her rescuers. She had four deep linear gouges that ran from her shoulders to her mid-back. She was very sick. Her wounds were so infected that her entire upper back was swollen and tight. 

We made her a bed of folded blankets in a small room where she could have quiet and relative darkness. She lay on one side, carefully, with her front paws tucked under her chin, eyes shut tight.

She was dehydrated and malnourished. Her fur was long and smooth and chocolate brown — lovely. She had longish, leathery feet and of course, that tail. Its texture is sort of like thick leather, like the skin of a big fish. And she was big, maybe three feet long, not counting her tail.

The first time we entered the room, she tensed up and barely opened her eyes. She was in such pain that she wouldn’t move at all. Talking softly and moving slowly, we approached her in order to examine her wounds and care for them.

Her blankets were soiled, as she had no way to urinate or defecate. We got more thick blankets and very gently, we began to roll her over onto the clean blankets. I’d never heard a beaver vocalize, and we jumped when she gave a little squeaking moan of pain. We spoke to her and continued to gently pull out the soiled linen. She was panting with the pain and effort and her wounds were oozing a bit. But her eyes were bright.

During this entire frightening and painful process, the beaver was never aggressive. If you’re a wild thing and something is causing pain, you bite or lash out at it. This beaver had front teeth that were a good inch long, and her claws were close to an inch long. She could do some damage. But this girl let us do what we needed to do, telling us with her squeaky moan when it was getting to be too much.

She had earned a rest, so we turned off the lights and opened the window so she could hear the sound of the wind in the trees.

Beavers love chopped apples and squash. We were worried that our beaver was too sick to eat, so we found the most delectable fruit available. We chopped it all into bite-size bits and then pondered how to feed her. She was well enough now that when anyone came into her room, she opened her eyes and followed our movements. But she stayed quite still, with those paws still tucked up close to her chin.

We placed a few bits of apple and squash near her nose and stepped back. Slowly, slowly, that nose began to twitch. She tried to focus her eyes on what smelled so good. More sniffing. Then, slowly, one paw moved just enough to guide a bit of apple into her mouth. If a beaver can have a look of pleasure on her face, this one did. I don’t think we imagined it, although we were that relieved she would eat. It was a slow, ruminative process, but we were glad to provide a steady stream of apples and squash over a few hours’ time until she was finally satisfied.

Her wounds required drainage and antibiotic care. Working together, two of us would gently apply pressure to the wounds and clean the drainage from her back. She would give her moaning squeak if it was too painful. We’d give her a well-deserved rest.

This was the routine for about a month, until her wounds had closed and she was slowly moving about.

Graduation day came.

One of the volunteers has a small pond and stream on her property and a clean, empty shed. On moving day, we put her in a large blanketed enclosure in the back of the volunteer’s car. We waved goodbye and knew that we had experienced something quite special with this mammal.

Kate, the volunteer, called in the next day to say that the beaver was happily settled with a supply of apples.

Next challenge: how to get her to the water, 50 feet away?

Kate cut up an apple and placed it in the wheelbarrow. No choice but to climb in, (the barrow was tilted to the ground) if she wanted that apple. In she climbed. Kate reported that she looked like a queen, sitting regally in the wheelbarrow, holding apple bits to her mouth as she pushed her to the water. Kate would gently tip the barrow and the beaver would slide out into the cool, clean pond for a swim.

She waited for the barrow with its reward of apples each day, and climbed in for her ride back to the shed.

Eventually she was moved to Eastern Oregon, to an isolated, gently flowing river. I hope she is there to this day, chewing twigs and having baby beavers.

I’ll never forget her gentle acceptance of our care. This isn’t meant to be an anti-fur rant, but I think of this quiet, ruminative creature with one of those ingeniously made, slender paws caught in a trap. I think of that squeaky moan when we caused her pain. Enough said.

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