Say a kind word for a “harmful” beaver...
The number of the biggest Belarusian representative of rodents almost by three times exceeds the optimal one, but it does not mean that a merciless war should be declared against it.
Recently, beavers often appeared to description of accidents – sometimes they undermine a dam by provoking a flood, or they suddenly cross a river. All this does not contribute to improvement of their “image” of nice hardworking builders, it looks as if soon they will exclusively be considered the large-toothed wreckers. But their history cannot be called very easy – sometimes they were exterminated at all, and now some people try to reduce their number. It is high time to switch on the brain, as they say, and to search for “the golden middle”...
The territory of Belarus and neighboring countries – Lithuania, Poland and Russia – was famous for the abundance of beavers from the ancient times. Already in the tenth century the beavers breeding service existed, and standards and rules of hunting this animal were taken, their regulated and non-regulated hunting was conducted.
The beaver biology is well studied. The maximum body mass of the animal hunted in the Berezino biospheric reserve constituted 27 kilograms, although usually it weighs 15-18 kilograms. Some cases were noted, when beavers having the weight of 32 kg and over were hunted on the territory of our republic. In Belarus beavers of light brown, often reddish tint, fur colour. There are also populations of dark and black coloured animals.
The vegetarian “menu” of our beavers is rather diverse, it includes 150 types of herbal, water, half-water and wood plants. And the wood-and-branch food is the mandatory component of their ration – this is not only a food, but also the gymnastics required for sharpening their permanently growing teeth.
As the rule, beavers live in families consisting of two adults and young animals by the age of three years old. But single animals can also be met. These “toothy” animals inhabit banks of rivers and brooks, lakes, channels, rarer – in swamps. Their build huts, semi-huts or they live in burrows made on water pools banks.
However, dams are, perhaps, most unique structures built by beavers, and they use these dams for crossing the small rivers. In the Berezino reserve dams having the length by 120 m could be met (on Kesta-river) and by 150 m (on Krasnoguka). A pond is formed above a dam, sometimes of big sizes.
The beaver hunting trade production includes beaver skins, spurt and meat. A beaver, as any water-living animal, has a very strong and thick fur consisting of awn and underfluff. Such a cover protects animals from mechanical impacts, supercooling, and it allows them to stay in water for a long time. Beaver fur products are widely used owing to their strength and splendid heat insulation properties. Human beings long ago also discovered medicinal properties of the beaver’s spurt – these are paired glands, similar to musk ones. Beavers use the spurt secretion for marking its territory.
Presently, the beaver’s meat is mainly consumed by hunters. It is considered dietetic, if it cooked well, it is rather delicious and useful, but before cooking it should be soaked.
During ancient times a high cost, a big demand for skins, spurt and meat of beavers resulted in rapid reduction of their total number and even disappearance in Europe. In England beavers disappeared already in the 11th century. Before the beginning of the past century only their isolated settlements were retained on the territory of contemporary Russia, Belarus, Poland. Their trade importance gradually reduced. Although in 1900-1905 the value of the beaver’s spurt in Belarus was equal to the value of gold: the beaver’s spurt was put in one cup, and gold coins to the other one. Therefore, in spite of prohibitions non-sanctioned trade still existed.
Within the territory of the former Soviet Union, whereon the retained beaver populations inhabited, beaver hunting was prohibited in 1922.
In November 1924 an expedition organized by the People’s Commissariat of Land Use of BSSR and headed by professor A.F. Fedyushin studied the animal world of the Borisov region. In upper waters of Berezina the researchers found the only big colony of beavers in the European part of the USSR, it included about twenty settlements (now - Berezino biospheric reserve).
The Fedyushin’s discovery, establishment of a reserve and a number of hunter’s game reserves became the beginning of beavers restoration in Belarus, with their number constituted several thousands of animals before the Great Patriotic War, and it achieved 6-8 thousand by 1948. Our republic became the main supplier of beavers for settling in various regions of the Soviet Union. In Belarus more than 5 000 beavers were caught and sent to a new place of residence. In 1963 for the first time in the Soviet history the State Committee of the Council of Ministers of BSSR for nature saving permitted hunting of beavers “for skins” in the quantity of 800 animals. By 1970 4226 beavers were hunted. Unfortunately, the fraudulent hunting was active, too.
What science is going to say?
Since 1970-ies and by the end of 1990-ies the number of beavers on the Belarusian territory fluctuated within 20-25 thousand animals. Then a serious growth took place, and as a sequence, a serious problem appeared related to vital functions of these animals at various sections. As is known, numerous settlements of beavers cause sensible losses: agricultural lands and forest plants are flooded, road embankments and dams are destroyed, normal functioning of the system of ameliorating hydrotechnical structures is stopped.
The optimal quantity is one of the main features being the basis of determining the volume of the economic use of hunting animal resources. In “the total forecast of hunting husbandry development in the Belarusian SSR for 1984—1985, 1990 and 2000” specialists of hunting groups of “Lesproject” Belarusian Forestry Unitary Enterprise determined and substantiated the optimal economical quantity of beavers in the republic – 20 100 animals. Presently, the actual quantity of beavers exceeds the optimal one almost by three times.
Quantity growth is, first of all, explained by absence of demand for hunting products. Presently, the beaver hunting products are mainly sold via private buyers of fur raw materials. According to questionings of hunters the cost of products in 2007 was the following: for skins of beavers - 7-12 conventional currency units, for spurt of beavers – 250 conventional currency units per 1 kg. In order to get 1 kg of the spurt about 15 animals should be caught.
Although beaver hunting increased in recent years, and in 2007 it constituted 2133 animals, this does not contribute to reduction of their growth. Taking into account the actual and optimal quantity, as well as their annual growth, the beaver hunting must be equal to at least 7 000 animals. Users of hunting lands do not wish to be persistently engaged into beaver hunting. There are no state and planned purchases of wild fur materials in our country.
It should be pointed out that presently the problem of overpopulation of beavers does exist in a number of places, and in this case the Belarusian science must express its opinion. The balance has been disturbed in the nature, reasonable actions are required by taking into account the history of existence of this valuable wild animal without any extreme actions. Otherwise, the history will inevitably be repeated.
Material is prepared in association with journalists of the Narodnaya Gazeta.