In April, a 60-year-old fisherman at Lake Shestakov in the country of Belarus was trying to catch a beaver for a photo when it attacked him, biting through his femoral artery and causing him to bleed to death. According to New Scientist, such attacks are rare to the point of being unheard-of, since beavers are vegetarians whose dentition has evolved to bite wood, not flesh.
“Beavers are shy, nocturnal rodents, ungainly on land, that avoid immediate threats from natural predators or humans by quickly entering the water and swimming or diving to safety,” wrote Simon Jones of the Scottish Beaver Trial, a conservation program dedicated to reintroducing beavers to the United Kingdom.
“If this means of escape is not open to a beaver and it is cornered, then, like many wild animals, it will attempt to frighten off its attacker or defend itself or its young with a sudden lunge and bite,” Jones continued.
The scientist theorized that the animal must have felt cornered and, as a result, “fell back on its last line of defense.”
While beavers were hunted nearly to extinction in the 1800s for their pelts, the last few decades have seen a resurgence in their numbers, both in their European and Asian habitats and in North America. Since scientists have realized that the “tubby, spaniel-sized” animals are a boon to ecosystems, protections have been put in place to preserve their numbers.
Beaver reintroduction programs have been instituted in 29 countries in Europe. The Scottish Beaver Trial began in 2009 when a family of Eurasian beavers were set free in the Knapdale Forest on Scotland’s southwestern coast.
Beavers benefit ecosystems because the lakes and ponds caused by their dams provide habitat for many wetland species. The dams also trap pollution and sediments.
“The return of this native species is not cost-free,” wrote Jones, “but the physical risk that the beaver poses to people is far outweighed by the many biodiversity and other environmental benefits that this industrious creature brings.”
According to the Associated Press, however, Belarusian emergency services have reported a rash of “reports of aggression by beavers.”
Wildlife expert Viktor Kozlovsky told the AP that young beavers can be more aggressive as they leave the family group and attempt to stake out their own territory. Also, as nocturnal animals, beavers can become disoriented in daylight and react aggressively to humans out of fear.
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