2019 Year in Review: Dr. Karra Pierce, Senior Veterinary Intern

It’s time to look back on 2019! Check our blog between Christmas and New Year’s for a variety of stories and memories of 2019 from the staff and volunteers of the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

The highlight of my year was treating an adult female North American beaver (Castor canadensis). This patient was found in a parking lot, making no efforts to move. She was transferred to Wellesley Animal Hospital in Richmond for initial triage and stabilization and then brought to the Wildlife Center later that day.

When the beaver arrived at the Wildlife Center, she was very weak and had multiple wounds on her back and tail. Some of these wounds were infected, and some were old healed wounds. We will never know for sure what caused these wounds, but beavers are very territorial, so I suspect that this was an older beaver that had been pushed out of her territory.

We treated the beaver for her wounds and set up a large outdoor enclosure for her. The combination of the beaver’s wounds and her species’ natural history presented a bit of an issue. The wounds needed to be kept dry in order to prevent infection and heal appropriately, but beavers themselves are designed to be in water! Simple behaviors like defecation need to be performed in the water. We were able to compromise and set up a very shallow water dish for her that allowed her to defecate, but still kept the wounds dry.

Initially, the beaver was very weak, so she required daily assistance when getting into the water, and needed assistance eating. For several days, I had to syringe feed her a special liquid diet for herbivores because she was making no efforts to eat on her own, and her lack of nutrition would only perpetuate her weakness.

With time, she started eating on her own, getting in the water on her own, and becoming defensive toward us! She’d slap her tail when we came to change the water and moved quickly into her den to avoid human interaction.

Beavers invest an incredible amount of time and effort into building dams and lodges, and accordingly, are quite defensive of this territory! For many reasons, we knew that the location this beaver was found would not be an ideal location for release. Unfortunately, as human development continues, human/beaver conflict is increasing. Beavers dam culverts and other urban drainage solutions, which can lead to the flooding of human-occupied areas.  While this can be difficult for urban development, beavers can significantly benefit ecosystems. While going about their daily life, they help to replenish wetlands and create freshwater ecosystems that support many other animals’ lives! 

Luckily, a USDA biologist in the area was “looking” for a beaver to provide all these benefits to a piece of land in the area. Release was approved and the beaver went to her new “home” after about a month in our care.

Beavers are the national animal of Canada and are used as symbols for many organizations within the country. The beaver is even featured on our nickel! Being a fan of rodents (beavers are the largest rodent in North America!), and from Canada, I expect that it comes as no surprise that this was my favorite patient of 2019!

-- Dr. Karra Pierce, Senior Veterinary Intern

Check out all of our year-in-review posts!

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