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Beaver Returns to New York City Centuries After Eradication

The first beaver to return to New York City since colonial times has been photographed and filmed living in the Bronx River. (Image credit: Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society)

The first beaver [image] to return to New York City since colonial times when the dam-builders were hunted to extinction has been photographed and filmed at its lodge surrounded by gnawed tree stumps, a scientist said today.

  • Video: Beaver's Back

Employees of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in New York discovered the beaver and its lodge on the Bronx River and named the animal after a local state congressman who has advocated for conserving the area. Congressman Jose E. Serrano (D-Bronx) has helped secure $14.5 million in federal grants for the Bronx River's restoration in the past five years.

Beavers are the state mammal of New York State, and they are shown on the Big Apple's official seal.

"This is a symbolic moment for our great city," said WCS President Steven Sanderson. "New York City is the epitome of an urban environment. The fact that an animal which represents the wild frontier of North American can live and thrive in a river that runs through the Bronx Zoo is proof that we can coexist with nature anywhere on the planet. Anything is possible."

Beavers are actually rodents, the largest found in North America, typically weighing between 25 and 55 pounds and sometimes fattening up to 90 pounds. Beavers use their foot-long flat tails for steering and slapping water to scare off intruders and warn other beavers of potential danger.

Naturalists often refer to beavers as excellent engineers for their ability to fell large trees with their teeth and use the lumber to build dams and lodges.

Beavers played a role in the founding of New York. Beaver skins were the colony's chief export and were used as currency. Dutch traders shipped 7,246 beaver pelts back to the Netherlands when Manhattan was purchased from Native Americans in 1626. The trade in the luxurious pelts climbed to 80,000 annually about 50 years later.

Hunting and trade in pelts led beavers to near extinction in the eastern United States by 1800 and near extinction nation-wide by 1930. Beavers now have rebounded in much of their traditional range.

Live Science Staff
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