Injured beaver in Toronto

Toronto is a cosmopolitan city where people from numberless countries and cultures and persuasions live peacefully together. This successful multiculturalism is one of its main attractions for tourists, as made abundantly clear in tourist brochures and coffee table publications.

Far and between, however, are tourists that come here to marvel at the city’s natural heritage. Yet, that too is an important aspect of this city. Not without reason do we often talk about Toronto’s so-called urban wildernesses. One of the most remarkable of these is Tommy Thompson Park or TTP [01].

The park was originally intended as an extension of the Harbour of Toronto. It was constructed by landfill and construction continues to this day. Over time, nature invaded some parts of the park and when it became clear that the harbour extension was not needed, it officially became a park.

Still known by some locals as “the Leslie Spit”, this is neither its name, nor is it a spit. It is best described as an artificial peninsula, stretching five kilometres into Lake Ontario. It is named after Toronto’s first parks commissioner, Tommy Thompson, the man who immortalised the phrase “Please walk on the grass”, which can still be seen in some of Toronto’s parks.

Nature at TTP is now –in a very big way- getting a helping hand by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) [02]. Since the park is constructed in the lake itself, it seems rather logical that there would be many wetlands. Many animals live in these wetlands. Canada’s national symbol, the beaver [03], is one of them.

I don’t know how many beavers there are at the park, but there are quite a few, and there is ample evidence that there are several families. Beavers are shy animals and they are largely crepuscular and nocturnal. As a result, most occasional visitors of the park are very unlikely to glimpse one.

People who go there often, on the other hand, increase the likelihood of a sighting. As a very frequent visitor, I have seen several. These two videos, however, are a little grimmer than a typical animal video. They illustrate, in fact, the cruelty of evolution by natural selection at work.

As Charles Darwin said in his Origin [04]:

Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows.

I have not seen this beaver since a few days now, and so I decided it was time to show him to people who were not so lucky as to have seen him.

Since I ride a bike, and bikes are not allowed on the pedestrian trails, I very rarely venture on these trails. This beaver however, while on a pedestrian trails was very visible from the main road. When I noticed him, I wrestled myself off my bike (a typical North American bike, and quite awkward to get on and off) and walked towards the beaver for a closer look.

Getting this close, less than two metres, without having the beaver running away or even attacking is very rare indeed, a treat for the interested naturalist. It became soon clear however, that this beaver did not behave this way because it liked me so much, but rather because it was suffering from relatively serious injuries.

Just as humans, injured beavers try not to move injured parts, because this hurts and because not moving promotes healing. Therefore, even while keeping a weary eye on me, he overcame his natural aversion in order to avoid unnecessary pain and continued eating to build up its strength.

Because the beaver still hid during the day, and only came out towards the end of it, I never got to see it in good lighting conditions, but I did come close enough to see the extent of his injuries.

This situation also forced me to face a dilemma: trying to help the critter or not? This is a dilemma, because “helping” one beaver is also interfering with the goal of creating a self-sustaining environment in the park.

I had three main options:
1 Do nothing
2 Contact the Toronto Wildlife Centre and let hem take care of him
3 Try to make the beaver a little more comfortable, for example by feeding it a few apples

Each of these options has potential ramifications.

Not doing anything could result in the death of the beaver (and an unpleasant and painful one at that), and the end of the beavers at the park. There are many beavers in the park, the most I can remember ever having seen together, was five, and these did not belong to the same family.

It is therefore highly unlikely that the loss of one beaver would be the end of the beavers at TTP. Furthermore, beavers are not currently considered an endangered species. Letting them be, seems therefore a very valid option.

Contacting the Toronto Wildlife Centre was an attractive option, but that would be a major interference with the wildlife at the park. While saving one beaver, the balance at the park could be severely upset, depending on how long the beaver would stay in their care. It would also not necessarily solve anything, as the fight(s) that led to the beaver’s injuries would very probably simply start again.

The third option, therefore, seemed the most attractive one: not interfering while trying to lessen the beaver’s suffering, for example by feeding it a few apples, or some other fruit that it would like. This has the danger of making the beaver ask for more. This is definitely not advisable, but relatively easy to avoid by making sure he would not be able to associate me with the gift. Nevertheless, I did keep in mind that feeding wild animals is generally a very bad idea.

After talking with someone at the TRCA, I changed my position and decided to do nothing at all. While relatively cruel (in this case) from a humanitarian standpoint, the TRCA’s policy is both elegant and wise: if the injuries are caused by human intervention, call for help. If not, do not interfere in any way and leave the creature alone. For the Star Trek fans, this is almost the same Star Trek’s famed “Prime Directive” [05].

It is also a lesson: the people responsible for a park usually have a policy of their own. Interfering with that policy is likely to make things worse, not better. Obeying that policy, even if one disagrees with it (and no, I did *not* disagree with it) is almost certainly far better than just taking one’s own decisions, no matter how good the intentions are. Consistency brings results, inconsistency brings confusion.

[01] Tommy Thompson Park home page, accessed 4 April 2012
[02] TRCA home page, accessed 4 April 2012
[03] Mammals at Tommy Thompson Park, retrieved 4 April 2012
[04] Charles Darwin, On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life, First edition, John Murray, 24 November 1859, page 490
[05] Star Trek, the Prime Directive, retrieved 4 April 2012

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6 comments to Injured beaver in Toronto

  • Bart B. Van Bockstaele

    Apology accepted, Craig. I simply had the impression you weren’t really reacting to what I wrote, which is why I replied the way I did.

    And yes, of course, there are still lots of beavers and muskrats in Ontario. From a conservation standpoint, one or two certainly won’t be missed. But, also from a conservation standpoint, that’s true for humans as well. Let’s be clear: I’m not advocating “culling” or “managing” humans, but when we talk about “managing” wildlife (and I include all types of “life” in that), we must be very careful indeed to not only see things from a short-term human perspective.

    The location I show in the video is Tommy Thompson Park. The park has been built over the past half century or so, and is still under active construction. It is quite possible that there are “too many” beavers and muskrats here, but I’d rather let them fight it out, so that the least fit disappear and not the ones we don’t like for some reason. The ones who die will then simply be welcome nourishment for other wildlife. That’s why I think the TRCA has a wise position in letting “nature run its course” unless the damage was caused by humans in the first place.

    The TRCA is doing its best to create an “urban wilderness” in the park. They are succeeding, as can be seen from some of my articles and pictures. Time permitting, I will publish a lot more. A whole lot more. Tommy Thompson Park is intended to be a place where humans are visitors, and wildlife is boss. So, while it is a sanctuary for “nature”, it isn’t one for individual species. The idea is to let nature simply “be”.

  • Craig

    No problem Bart. Absolutely treat animals humanely. Sorry if I cam across too rough. But, It just gets to me sometimes that people take for granted, the fact that animals are a renewable resource if managed properly and with the guidelines the Ministry of Natural Resources has in place.

    Even if a few of these animals were “harvested” during the open season, it would most likely benefit the groups as a whole. There is a very good chance that these Beavers are above carrying capacity in this location you show in the video.

  • Bart B. Van Bockstaele

    I think you have only given my post a very superficial glance. Otherwise you would have known that I know those things. But yes, you are right in one respect: I am very sensitive, at least where Toronto’s urban wildernesses are concerned. Toronto is a unique city. To the best of my knowledge the only big city where -for example- one can observe the salmon run by merely taking a subway. Such nature *is* fragile as witnessed by those who have brought it back from the brink. Everything we do in Toronto’s urban wildernesses is worth thinking about in order to avoid painful mistakes as much as possible.

  • Craig

    I highly doubt the end of the beavers will come with the loss of one or even a few beavers. They will breed right back again. You sound very fragile. Nature isn’t. What would the Toronto Wildlife Centre possibly do, split up the beaver fights?

    As a wildlife follower aren’t you aware that beavers are highly territorial? the parents want the 2 year old’s out of the lodge to start their own families this time of year. Every year in fact in the spring. The parents are preparing the lodge for the new kits. When you see bites like those on the beaver, it could also be from over population.

    Stop being so sensitive. There are bigger problems in this world.

  • Bart B. Van Bockstaele

    Indeed. Especially now that it has disappeared, I can’t help but think of the critter. I know that the decision not to interfere was at the time objectively the best possible decision I could take, but I am not a mindless robot blindly following a standard rule book, so doubt remains. Also, even if death was the critter’s inevitable fate, I can’t help but feel for it. Oh well, that’s the price we pay for being human, I guess.

  • Elke

    Hard, but wise not to interfere. Hope you will meet him again.

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