When an English farmer spotted some gnaw marks on trees along his property, he decided to set up a camera, believing a rare beaver might be the cause.
Farmer David Lawrence and environmental scientist Tom Buckley captured images of a rare wild beaver – a species believed to have been hunted to extinction during the 12th century, BBC reports.
"I thought at first it was someone messing about with an ax, but I contacted Tom, who had his suspicions. He set up trail cameras and -- hey presto -- we saw what it was," Lawrence said.
Buckley said the gnaw marks looked similar to those made by Canadian beavers. When he captured the rare River Otter beaver on camera, he was shocked.
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"I couldn't believe it. It's fantastic," Buckley said, adding that questions remain surrounding the beaver’s origin.
“It may be one that’s just passing through from somewhere else – it might be an escapee, but nobody seems to be saying they’ve lost a beaver,” he told the Western Morning News.
The beaver was found in the River Otter in Devon, England. Wild beavers in the country have are rare, believed to have gone extinct in the Middle Ages when they were hunted for their fur and throat glands. The only other beavers in the country are two kept in a hidden location as part of a three-year experiment to see if they can help restore the wetlands.
“I’m not aware of any other wild beavers living in English countryside,” Buckley said. “There was information somewhere on the Internet of a beaver being seen down towards Budleigh Salterton last year – so this could be the same animal coming upstream.”
Lawrence says he thinks the beaver has a chance of survival, as long as his habitat isn’t disturbed.
“It’s early days yet, but as long as lots of people don’t go there and frighten the beaver away, he should be happy enough,” he said. “What’s going to be really interesting is how it gets on with the other animals, like the otters which we see on the river.”
The rare beaver may have chosen Lawrence’s land since the river divides, leaving some land to form a dam, Buckley said. “Logically speaking, it would seem like an ideal place for a beaver on the loose to make a home,” Buckley said.
In July, a dog walker in Britain took photos of a beaver swimming in the same river. Lorna Douglas said she spotted the animal several times while exercising her pet dogs along the River Otter in south Devon.
“I’ve lived here for about 25 years and never even seen an otter, let alone a beaver,” she said at the time. “It seemed really friendly and swam in circles a few times before going back under a tree."