Stuffed animals help orphaned beavers learn to live

Stuffed animals help orphaned beavers learn to live »Play Video
One of the baby beavers is seen when it arrived at PAWS.
LYNNWOOD, Wash. -- Barely two weeks old, and weighing just one pound, an orphaned beaver arrived at the PAWS Wildlife Center in Lynnwood hypothermic and weak.

It's rare for PAWS to care for a baby beaver, also called a kit.

But just five days later, a hiker brought a second orphan to the center after his mother was run over by a jet-ski.

A sad event, but it actually helped PAWS because beavers are highly social animals and need companions.

"In the wild they're with their mom and some older siblings," explained PAWS Wildlife Rehabilitation Manager Dondi Byrne.

"So they can become depressed if they're by themselves or they're not getting that."

Now the two orphans are living - and learning - together.

PAWS tries to minimize human interaction, but that's tough when the kits need to learn everything, starting with how to eat.

For the first two weeks, the staff at PAWS bottle fed the beavers by hand.

But to cut back on that human interaction and to better mimic life in the wild, they brought in a surrogate - a stuffed animal beaver with bottles and a hot water bottle tucked inside.

It worked.

The kits nursed that way for another couple months before making the transition to solid food.

Another stuffed animal helped the beavers learn to swim and dive.

The two beavers peek out of their box

Normally, kits climb on their mother to rest in the water.

In that case, a stuffed bear did the trick.

Now the kits are stronger swimmers, and showing some of their natural instinct to remodel their manmade box into a beaver lodge.

"They can and certainly have it within them to know how to do this," said Byrne. "They might need a little more practice time than if they were out in the wild."

PAWS could raise the babies for up to two years.

"We need to be assured before we release them that they are able to find the right diet, build things the way they need to, build lodges, navigate water. It just takes awhile," said Byrne.

It's a long, expensive job. The water bill alone will run into the thousands of dollars.

But beavers play a crucial role preventing erosion and preserving salmon habitat.

So the payback will come when the orphans are free again.

If you would like to contribute to PAWS to help care for the beaver kits, go to their Web site.