In the German state of Brandenburg, there’s a new pest in town. They’re wreaking havoc on the river-bound area, burrowing into the dikes that guard residents from floods and gnawing on the protective sandbags like they’re made of soft pulp.
The pest? Endangered, busy beavers.
Ever since the Oder River flooded in 2010, which runs between Poland and Germany, Brandenburg has been dealing with the Beaver Problem.
According to officials, beavers have damaged around 77 of the dike’s 172 kilometers.
The rodents have been burrowing deep inside the malleable innards of the dike, digging up to 15-meter corridors that reach the other side of the embankment. And once the beavers cross the embankment, they’re settling in to their new environment. Now the 20,000 people living in the Oderbruch region have quite a few new neighbours to deal with, roughly 250 to 500 beavers.
“A beaver doesn’t have any business being at a dike,” said Matthias Freude, the head biologist at the capital’s Environmental Agency, to the Spiegel newspaper. He notes this current destruction is an act of desperation. When beavers’ habitats are flooded, they seek dry land for themselves and their offspring, which brought them to the dike, “the only high ground the beaver has left,” says Freude.
But coming up with a solution to the Beaver Problem is complicated. Biologists must find a way to secure the structural integrity of the dike, while also protecting the well being of the beavers, which are an endangered species.
In order to prevent beavers from infiltrating the lower parts of the dikes, authorities have begun implanting mesh wire panels made out of sturdy galvanized steel in the embankments. Conservationists have also built “wildlife rescue hills,” dry places where beavers can find shelter.
If these two beaver-friendly measures fail, then authorities will trap the rodents and keep them in dog kennels until the water levels are back to normal.
Although the alternative option might seem drastic, the dike is the residents’ main line of defence against the flood-prone Ode River. In 1997, a flood killed 100 people and caused around $4.5 billion in damages.
“The beavers need to be pushed back into areas where they can’t do any damage,” says Karsten Birkholz, a local representative in the Oderbruch, to the Spiegel. “The dike is the foundation of our existence. If the levee doesn’t hold, we are as good as gone.”