When most people think of central Illinois, they don’t think water. And they certainly don’t think aquatic animals. But between the vast corn and soy fields, there are some pretty beautiful lakes, rivers, and ponds, and early this season, one the most charismatic residents of these ecosystems was in need of help—an American beaver kit.
The kit was found alone, wandering alongside a lake with no den in site. On some occasions, baby animals that are alone are doing just fine. Newborn deer fawns spend most of the day alone, cottontails and opossums are still very small when they are independent, and many young birds learning to fly (called fledglings) are alone on the ground with mom and dad in the trees nearby. But a brand new baby beaver shouldn’t be outside of the lodge without mom or dad. For the first several weeks of life, baby beavers should be indoors. Even after they are old enough to start coming out of the lodge, they still spend the next two years or so with their parents learning to forage and build a home. So when this kit was found all alone on dry land, we knew that something was wrong.
The kit’s rescuer was willing to do whatever was necessary for the beaver, and she followed careful instructions to care for him before she could make the long drive to the Wildlife Medical Clinic in Urbana. Despite the best of intentions, finders can make things much worse for the animals they rescue by feeding them. Feeding a cold or sick animal can lead to gastrointestinal problems, as can feeding the wrong type of food. Additionally, even when an animal is warm and healthy, feeding formula or milk too quickly can lead to aspiration of the liquid into the lungs, which can be fatal.
Fortunately, when the kit finally came to be in our care, he was still healthy and strong. A full physical exam revealed no injuries or signs of illness, so we tentatively chalked him up as a true orphan. Because beavers spend so much time with their families early on in life, they seem to be very susceptible to—of all of nature’s dangers—loneliness! So with that in mind, the students and staff set up the baby in a warm, dark place with a stuffed animal for company and a noise machine playing the sound of a heartbeat. Baby beavers are very vocal (some even describe them as ornery; see this example and decide for yourself!) when they are hungry or agitated, but the stuffed animal and the heart sounds seemed to soothe the kit, and he soon curled up to sleep.
After several days of monitoring to be sure the kit was healthy, the next step was to find the baby a long-term home. As mentioned above, beavers spend years with their families, so the rehabilitation of an orphan takes a very long time. Since the Wildlife Medical Clinic is a hospital and not a rehab center, we don’t have the facility or resources to house patients long-term. Luckily, we were able to locate a licensed wildlife rehabilitator willing to take on the challenge of raising a baby beaver, and we sent him on his way.
The beaver has been gone for a month now, and all reports are that he is thriving. He’s eating well and he has tripled in size, though he is reported to be just as *ahem* vocal as before. We’re optimistic that he’ll continue to do well and will be able to return to the wild as an adult in good time.