I've just returned from spending a week at Telemark University in Norway where I have been assisting with their fieldwork in order to learn about beavers and gain experience of working with these oversized rodents. My boss, and project manager, Simon and I had a challenging experience while there, working daft hours and pushing ourselves both mentally and physically. I think it's fair to say though that we are both pretty tough and fit, so despite our days being 9am - 4am we came through it all smiling: afterall we did get to sleep for 5 hours in every 24!
Our first night there was the only oportunity we had to "let our hair down" as we joined local hunters, students, professors and wildlife rangers whose common interest was the beaver even if the reason for this fascination differed somewhat. I joined a beaver hunt and after the success of thism dinner was... yes you guessed it... beaver tacos! Not bad eating at all!
The rest of our time there we were keeping our beavers very much alive so that they could be studied. The students were researching (broadly) interactions between families of beavers, hormone levels and scent marking behaviour. To do this the animals needed to be fitted with microchips, radio and/or GPS tags, data loggers and ear tags, as well as have samples taken.
Catching beavers isn't easy. They are large muscular animals and superb swimmers. They know their habitat, and the best escape routes, very well and learn how to outwit people over time. The main method of catching beavers in Norway is with the use of power boats and nets: the trapping team use spotlights to find a beaver; when found the driver goes full throttle towards it and attempts to herd it toward shore if it swims. The trapper stands at the front of the boat with a large net and at the opportune moment leaps off to catch the animal... sound easy?
What made it harder was the conditions in which we were working. Sections of the river were still frozen and snow still thick on the ground in many places. It was freezing at night and I wore so many clothes that I could hardly bend. I did however manage to trap a beaver myself :o)
Samples were taken quickly and efficiently but with great care. If we injured or stressed the animals then it would render the information that we were collecting, both at the time and in the future, useless. The beavers were handled in sacs so that they were in the dark and felt secure but couldn't damage us!
The best part of course was releasing the beaver back into the wild, comfortable in the knowledge that this research team has been trapping some individuals regularly for 10 years. These animals have left perfectly normal beaver lives building lodges, raising families and defending a territory. It puts my mind a little more at ease since I'll regularly have to trap our beavers in Knapdale. How many we catch by this method remains to be seen!