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Animals & Attractions

European Beaver

In our collection

We currently have two beavers at the Highland Wildlife Park.

Where to see them

Our beaver enclosure is in between the Japanese macaques and great grey owl enclosures. It can be a little tricky to see them, as beavers are mainly active at night.

The beaver enclosure has been adapted by the previous European beavers (now gone to other collections in the UK). Many of the birch trees in the enclosure have been protected by wire as the beavers have already felled a number. From the boardwalk, the lodge which they have built is plain to see as a huge pile of sticks and mud on the bank of their pond. The entrance is underwater and they spend a lot of the day in the lodge. They are fed carrots, fresh willow and other browse when available.

Find out more

Status

Not Endangered NE
Data Deficient DD
Least Concern LC
Near Threatened NT
Vulnerable VU
Endangered EN
Critically Endangered CR
Extinct in the wild EW
Extinct EX

Critically Endangered

For more info on classifications visit www.iucnredist.org

Size

Population

The European population as a whole last assessed by the IUCN inJune 2008 and was found to be increasing. However UK populations are incredibly low and they are considered to be critically endangered

Habitat

  • Rivers and wetlands

    Rivers and wetlands

Diet

Scottish Beaver Trial

In May 2008, the Scottish Government approved an application for a trial reintroduction of the European beaver to the Knapdale Forest in Mid-Argyll. This was a joint application submitted by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust. On 29 May 2009, the first beavers for 400 years were legally released into the wild in Scotland.

If the trial is successful then the European beaver will be the first mammal to be formally reintroduced to the UK. Find out more at the Scottish Beaver Trial website and see how you can play a part in this milestone in Scottish conservation.

Find out more about beaver conservation in Scotland by visiting the Scottish Beaver Trial website.

Beaver Trial

In The Wild

The Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) is Europe's largest rodent and the second largest rodent in the world. A vegetarian, it spends all of its time in or very near water. They have a broad torso and widely spaced, short legs which are perfect for building dams. They also have large, well-developed incisors which are great for at gnawing the wood required to build their dams. Their front paws are small and have well-defined claws, while their back feet are webbed for swimming.

They have also developed several other adaptations including a broad tail, which is covered in scaly black skin made from modified hair. It’s similar to a paddle blade and is used as a rudder while swimming. They have thick course guard hairs which help to provide protection against the cold, and can be waterproofed. The waterproofing oil is produced in glands and is spread through their coat as it grooms its fur. They are also able to close their nose and ears when underwater and a transparent membrane protects the eye when it is swimming. Additionally, there are inner lips directly behind the teeth which allow the beaver to use its teeth underwater without flooding its mouth with water.

Dam construction and lodge-building are probably the most familiar aspects of beaver behaviour. They often dam rivers in order to regulate water levels - this ensures that the entrance to their home or "lodge" is always safely under water away from predators such as wolves or bears.

The dam is built from branches, which the beaver gets by using its chisel-like teeth to chip away at a tree trunk until it falls. The beaver then cuts the tree up and drags or pushes the timber into place.

The beaver is a largely nocturnal animal and most of their construction behaviour and foraging is undertaken during the night. They feed on bark, twigs, roots and leaves as well as aquatic plants. Prior to winter, beavers will store sticks and logs in underwater piles. This store of food will help to sustain the beaver through the winter months.

European beavers mate for life and typically live in a small family group with the young from the past two years. They normally have one litter per year, with litter sizes ranging from one to nine kits. The female looks after them for around three months and they may stay with the adults for up to two years before leaving the family group when sexually mature.

 During the late 19th and early 20th centuries beaver populations were wiped out in many parts of Europe as a result a loss of suitable wetland habitat and overhunting for their thick fur, meat and castoreum, which is a substance they secrete from their scent glands. Castoreum was used as the base for perfumes and also as the forerunner to aspirin. In recent years, a combination of conservation measures and reintroduction programmes have resulted in the beaver returning to much of its former range, and a number of its populations are rapidly expanding.

Our European Beaver