Aging beaver gets new habitat at Science North

elderly beaver gets accessible home Photo courtesy of Robin De Angelis/CBC

This is a story about an elderly engineer from Sudbury who favours dim, quiet spaces. He also happens to be a beaver.

Sudbury’s Science North is home to many different animals with unique needs and Drifter the beaver is no exception. At an estimated age of two to four years old, Drifter was first introduced to life at Science North with only half a tail after a bad bout of frostbite. He also had a spinal injury which has now, fourteen years later, turned into spinal arthritis. So yes, you could say Drifter needs some help. Luckily the biology team at Science North is happy to provide!

Amy Henson, a biologist who has been in Drifter’s care since his first days at the science centre, noticed a change in Drifter’s activity. Rather than roaming between his three habitats — a pond, lodge, and wooded area — Drifter was confining himself to his lodge. Right away, Henson knew something was wrong.

“When an animal stops behaving the way we think that animal should, that’s when we sort of stop, think about what’s going on and whether we can change anything of what we’re doing,” Henson told CBC.

Fearing his self-induced confinement was spurred by old-age challenges, Henson decided to build another, more accessible habitat.

His new home is situated in the Nocturnal Room, a nice space for an elderly beaver who enjoys solitude and is most active during dawn and dusk. His new enclosure is seven by five metres featuring a small pond, lodge, and a few small trees for him to cut down ensuring his teeth won’t someday drag on the ground. Chewing on trees helps to sharpen his ever-growing teeth and with two other impairments, Drifter doesn’t need to add oversized teeth to the list.

“He started building again. We haven’t seen that behaviour from him in ages,” Henson said after Drifter made the switch to the new habitat. “Beavers are engineers, that’s what they want to do … That’s really good, healthy beaver behaviour.”

Beavers in the wild can live to twenty-four years old. With Drifter’s estimated age between fifteen and nineteen years, he is definitely not a youngster anymore. Nevertheless, his age won’t stop him from waddling and swimming around his new home or munching on his favourite snacks.

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