Close Encounters

Close Encounters – Petra van Cronenburg

Yesterday I was able to walk again after a very long time. I was equipped with a Rübezahl walking stick so as not to slip. Luckily we had still snow, otherwise, I wouldn’t have believed my eyes!

tiny brook with snow at the edge of a forest
Could beavers live at this tiny brook?

I turned a corner and suddenly this creature was standing in front of me. On its hind legs. We were probably both equally astonished. He or she had an incredibly friendly appearance. And was so beautiful. For a moment, the animal looked at me, eventually turned round and disappeared waddling leisurely into the undergrowth.

It was the first time in my life that I saw this animal. When I was young, it was extinct in our landscapes.

I was left doubting because my first glance contradicted any better knowledge. My first impression and my feelings told me: Hey, this is a beaver looking at you! My mind croaked in between: You can’t possibly see a beaver here. There are none and the nearest river, actually a larger brook, was kilometres away. It is neither the day time nor the place for beavers!

Maybe I had just mixed something up? The animal made this typical hump when walking. An otter was also unlikely in the Northern Vosges. Had I seen a raccoon? A huge muskrat? Another rodent?

In the 1960s, The Eurasian beaver, Castor fiber, was almost extinct in France, especially in Alsace. They were finally placed under protection in 1968, but by then it was nearly too late. Between 1970 and 2014, scientists made five reintroductions in Alsace, mainly in the Ried. They count now around 500 beavers in the entire region. Today, the beaver is well established on the Largue, Doller, Ill, Lauch, Giessen, in the Rhine Ried and at the river Moder. Specimens from Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg join them in Alsace and Lorraine. Sometimes in winter, when the rivers are frozen, they wander around. In France as in Europe, Castor fiber is a protected species. The „Reseau Castor“ helps farmers and foresters how to live in coexistence and how to get compensations.

Well, I was nowhere near one of these reintroduction areas. But with help from Canada (social media is so useful), I was able to identify the tracks. The wonderful friendly creature that momentarily glanced into my eyes was indeed a beaver.

Collection of tracks in the snow. They are hand-like but webbed.
The tracks were webbed and as big as my palm.

In the meantime, I remember that months ago I had seen tracks on trees at the edge of the forest nearby, which I had also categorised as impossible because they looked like beaver damage. I’ll have to see if I took any photos.
Because with both pieces of evidence, the find would be so special that I could pass it on to our biodiversity recording centre.

The close encounter with the beaver made me immensely happy. I’ll never forget the feeling when we looked at each other. And it also makes me happy on another level: we can achieve so much if we stand up for nature. When we give endangered species a habitat and ensure that they can continue to live undisturbed. That’s why I’m not going to tell you which part of the nature park I travelled to yesterday. I hope that the beaver was not alone and found a good place for his family.

Writing is my work: Do you like it?

Addendum: Thanks to the mud and the heavy rainfall, I was able to do a longer search for tracks. We don’t just have one beaver, but a large and a small one (a mother and her yearling?). The footprints of the latter look touching, like those of a very small child. I can imagine how people spontaneously felt kinship with these friendly looking animals. And there is another piece of good news: the beavers are hiding where humans are not allowed to go. That should hopefully protect them sufficiently. I also found gnaw marks. Where I thought the typical pencils were, the forest is now inaccessible. So no photos for you, but that’s good for the beavers! Unfortunately, the water situation won’t stay that way.

Do you know that beavers are not only vital to ecosystems but nature’s best firefighters? Here’s a BBC article.

Human-beaver-coexistence – how can it work? Informations by the Human-beaver-coexistence fund.