Beavers have established a firm foothold in Switzerland after a successful programme to reintroduce them nationwide. Now fans of the furry rodent are hoping to link up their isolated communities to ensure their continued survival.
The dam-builders were hunted to extinction in Switzerland at the beginning of the 19th century for their fur and for food. However, between 1958 and 1977, 140 beavers were released into the wild. Today, their number has almost trebled.
"Between 350 and 400 beavers currently live in Switzerland but the next step is to try and reconnect the populations," said Claudine Winter of the Swiss Beaver Conservation Office in Bern.
"In the first place, we have to protect the existing populations by offering them a better habitat. Then their young have to spread and find new territories and that's when we have to offer them stepping-stone habitats along difficult rivers to make it easier for them to gradually spread into new areas."
Potential for damage
Beavers are vegetarian, can weigh about 25 kilograms and, if you include their tail, grow to more than a metre in a length. They live for about 12 years in the wild and are sometimes regarded as a nuisance because of their tendency to gnaw through tree trunks and make dams.
"There is a potential for damage but up to now they haven't caused a lot," said Winter. "There are also a lot of measures which you can take to avoid beaver damage such as electric fences, repellents and protection around single trees. There are also ways to control water levels so that it doesn't cause problems to the land."
Beaver populations differ significantly around the country. Cantons Vaud, Valais and Thurgau seem to be particularly prized by beaver populations while densities are low in cantons Bern and Solothurn.
Populations have increased far slower than in neighbouring countries which Winter believes could be down to the regular river flooding which Switzerland experiences.
"I hope the beaver will help us to restore more riverside habitats," she said. "I think it is our duty to take care of those natural habitats and restore them so that eco-systems can survive."
by Vincent Landon