A Mountain Beaver Heads Back to the Woods

By Ali Berman, Communications Manager

Ever heard of a Mountain Beaver? Most people, even in the Pacific Northwest where they are endemic, have neither seen nor heard of this elusive species.

The name seems fairly descriptive, usually leading people to believe that the mammal is a type of beaver who solely lives in the mountains. And yet, neither of those things is true. The Aplodontia Rufa—that’s the species’ scientific name—is the oldest member of the rodent family currently living on earth and is in no way related to the beaver. As for the mountains? They can actually be found in a wide range of habitats including down at sea level. The general public, even experienced hikers, rarely see this species because they live in underground burrows.

Photo by Tim Donner

In September, an injured Aplodontia was brought to the Wildlife Care Center for treatment. The animal suffered from abrasions on its feet and was observed walking in circles, signs that led Deb Sheaffer, our veterinarian, to suspect it had been hit by a car and sustained a head injury. Staff and volunteers kept their expectations low fearing that the damage might be too severe for the animal to recover.

And then, over the next few weeks, the Aplodontia—who we will admit, fascinated everyone here at Bird Alliance of Oregon with those long teeth, that furry coat, and a never ending supply of whiskers—began to display great signs of improvement. It stopped walking in circles and was moved to an outdoor enclosure where it began to burrow, a fantastic development that showed staff this mammal was ready to head back out into the wild.

Normally our Wildlife Care Center staff or volunteers would release the animal in the place where it was found. However, because this individual was dropped off at Multnomah County Animal Services, we had no way of knowing where it came from. The WCC worked with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to figure out an appropriate release site. As it turned out, we already had access to the perfect piece of habitat. On a planned trip up to Marmot Cabin, one of our educational facilities that situated on our 91 acre Joe Miller Sanctuary, Ian Abraham, Tim Donner and Marissa Duncan from our education department took on the task of returning this Aplodontia to the wild.

Following Deb’s instructions on how to release the Aplodontia, the education team found a great spot that was close to food and water, and a distance from any evidence of others of the same species. They set down the carrier and covered it with ferns and other plant-life.

Photo by Tim Donner

“Deb suggested we leave the carrier out there and camouflage it so it had a home base as it started figuring out its new territory,” explained Tim Donner, an environmental educator. “Just a place where it would potentially come back to and have some semblance of shelter until it could actually create its own burrow and its own home.”

While the ferns were being placed on the carrier, the Aplodontia was showing its curiosity about its new surroundings by looking around and smelling the air. And then, it came time to open the door.

“As it came out of the carrier, it started working all of its senses,” shared Ian Abraham, Bird Alliance of Oregon’s Camp Director and On-site Programs Manager. “To me the most impressive thing was to see it not only start to survey the area with its nose by smelling the land but it literally started to map the area around it using its sensory hairs and its whiskers, to walk around and figure out its new home.”

Photo by Tim Donner
Photo by Tim Donner

The Aplodontia ventured farther from the carrier and then circled back, gave its enclosure another sniff and then went back out into the woods.

Tim and Ian both confessed it was incredible to see the mammal figuring out its new habitat and to be a part of its release. When future children head up to Marmot Cabin we know these two educators will be sharing the story of the injured Aplodontia now living in those very woods, all thanks to a Good Samaritan and the dedication of our Wildlife Care Center.

Every year the Wildlife Care Center treats 3,000 injured or orphaned native animals. If you would like to make a donation to support our wildlife rehabilitation work at the Wildlife Care Center, click here.