Beaver attacks investigated in Shandaken
By Jay Braman Jr.
The industrious beaver, that cute and usually docile furry rodent, which also happens to be the official New York State animal, took on a new persona in the Catskill Region last week after at least one of the critters attacked and bit two swimmers along the Esopus Creek in Shandaken.
Last week Tuesday, at least one beaver attacked and bit two swimmers and attacked one person tubing in the creek about a mile upstream from Phoenicia. Reports indicate that two boys, between the ages of 10 and 13 years old, were both seriously bitten, the younger with two bites and the older with seven bites. Both boys were taken to Kingston Hospital for treatment, which was expected to include rabies shots. Further details of the treatment were not available.
A third person was attacked while tubing. The beaver reportedly bit and deflated an inner tube in which the person was floating but its rider was uninjured.
Shandaken Police responded as did New York City Department of Environmental Protection Police (DEP.) According to Shandaken Officer in Charge James McGrath, officers fired shots at one of the beavers. Also, an active beaver dam along the creek was destroyed while searching for the animals.
That search was suspended after dark and resumed the following morning with personnel from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
On Monday McGrath said the search team was unsuccessful at finding the culprit.
“We believe the beaver is deceased,” he said.
Should the dead beaver be found, however, DEC wants to take possession of it.
“DEC has directed that the animal be tested (for rabies)” said DEC Spokeswoman Wendy Rosenbach Monday.
Rosenbach added that there is no indication that beavers in general are infected with rabies, and that there is not any evidence to prove that this particular beaver, or beavers, were infected. She notes that any animal will become aggressive if threatened.
It remains unclear whether this beaver was being harassed. Rosenbach hopes that the incident does not cause a wave of vigilantism, where beavers are killed just out of fear that they are rabid.
It is extremely rare for a beaver to attack a human; most beaver attacks occur when the animal is rabid. In 2005, a rabid beaver bit three people playing in the water at a state park near Bel Air, Maryland.
Beavers are typically social and peaceful animals, with a strong family structure based on monogamous mating for life. However, to protect their limited food supply, a beaver will not allow unrelated beavers to inhabit its pond. To mark their territories they surround their ponds with scent mounds. Scent mounds are piles of mud with the adult’s castor oil mixed in.
Beavers, which can weigh up to 55 pounds, slap their tails loudly as warning when they feel cornered. Adult beavers will defend their territory by attacking other beavers from outside its family who enter their territory. However, other than such territorial disputes or self-defense, they appear to have a strong inhibition towards biting and are not known to attack humans.
Anyone that finds a beaver carcass in the Phoenicia vicinity should notify the Shandaken Police at 688-9902.