|Head Keeper Mike saying farewell|
Well, we don't have beaver in our collection. A beaver is a bit of a specialist with some very particular talents, and containing them is no simple task. Like all our animals, we'd have to provide them with the most natural habitat in which to display a full range of natural behaviour and frankly we're all really attached to our trees.
Anyway, the beaver in question was found under a tractor in the farmer's yard not far from here. Not sure of how to proceed, the farmer did the right thing and called the RSPCA. But before the officer arrived the beaver decided to scurry off into a nearby barn and land himself in a whole lot of mess - cow poo.
Undeterred, the officer waded in and managed to contain him in a portable dog kennel. Keep in mind that the beaver is a very dense muscular beast with a fearsome set of teeth and attitude to match and you'll realise just how brave that officer was.
From there it was a short trip to DZP where our staff were on alert for the new arrival. Cleaning him up was a priority so that we could check him for any signs of injury. More importantly we had to make sure he didn't ingest any nasty bugs through personal grooming. Staff managed to do that very carefully, doing a thorough job whilst keeping him calm and not losing any fingers.
Once clean he appeared to be in good health, if a little grumpy. The next step was to get him into quarantine and keep a close eye on him. After a few essential modifications (steel plate on the door) a vacant stable was ideal for the task.
Throughout this process he was quite vocal in his disapproval and proving to be a bit of a feisty character keeping our keepers very much on their toes; all very good indicators of his health and well-being.
All this time we were wondering, "where did he come from?" - the beaver is not indigenous. They were hunted to extinction here around 400 years ago.
Because the beaver was once a part of the British landscape, experts have in recent years considered its reintroduction. A recent report on a reintroduction programme in Scotland has produced differing opinions on whether or not this is a good idea. More locally, Devon Wildlife Trust have been conducting a controlled experiment involving two beavers at a secret location in North Devon. But neither of these projects explained our new arrival.
In 2008, three beavers escaped from a farm in nearby Lifton. Two were recovered, but the third, a big male called Igor, managed to evade recapture. After a little head-scratching we decided that this was the most likely explanation; Igor's days as a fugitive were finally over. What a great story!
Unfortunately, we were able to write off that possibility fairly quickly simply by talking to Igor's keepers. Apparently he was a 35 kilo monster whilst our fella was about 20 at most - only a youngster. This didn't seem to bother some of the national press who didn't let that fact get in the way of a good story.
So, the question remains. It appears that our beaver is a youngster, around two years old. This is the age at which they'd be leaving the family group to strike out and find a territory of their own. If they stick to the river they can easily cover large distances undisturbed, but it seems this one was a little less conventional and decided to explore the farmer's yard.
Of course, if this is true then mum, dad and younger siblings must be somewhere nearby. But where?
We're happy to report that the young beaver has had a bit of help finding his new residence, back at the scene of the 2008 escape in Lifton. The team there were keen to help out and we're confident that they'll give him the best possible care.
So, if you're out and about in the wilds and waterways of Devon, keep an eye open for fallen trees - you might spot a long lost resident making himself at home again.