Are Beavers Going Extinct? (How’s The Species Doing?)

There are two species of beaver alive today, the North American beaver (Castor canadensis, commonly known as the American Beaver) and the Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber). Neither of them is threatened or at risk of becoming extinct.

Further, not only are they not going extinct, but both species are thriving in their habitats in northern America and throughout parts of southern America and Europe.

This article lists everything you need to know about the status of beavers around the world, including their population numbers, their protection status, what threatens them, and what is currently being done now to ensure that beaver populations remain healthy around the world.

Are Beavers Endangered?

No, most beavers are not endangered. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (UCUN) Red List of Threatened Species, the Eurasian Beaver is listed as ‘Least Concern’. This is a marked improvement over the past 20 years when it was ‘Near Threatened’ in 2002.

Thanks to a range of successful conservation programs, its populations have steadily improved throughout Europe. However, populations throughout Asia, without the benefit of such measures, remain small and are at risk without urgent conservation programs to steady the populations.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (UCUN) Red List of Threatened Species also has the American Beaver as ‘Least Concern’. There are several reasons for this including its large territorial range, adaptability, and existence in many protected areas. Currently, the population levels are stable.

Are Beavers A Protected Species?

Beavers throughout the world are not treated equally and their protected status depends on the country in question.

Canada

The American beaver is an iconic native Canadian species and the country’s national symbol. Since the 1700s, it was a prized hunting trophy for its soft fur which was a popular component of beaver fur hats.

This popularity saw a sharp decline in numbers over time and it almost went extinct in northern America. However, recent conservation efforts including protective legislation have seen the American beaver populations in Canada thrive.

Here, the beaver is protected under both provincial and federal law because it is a fur-bearing animal. This means that you need to obtain permission to undertake any activity that might threaten a beaver habitat or population.

The United States and Mexico

Like Canada, the United States offers state-wide protections for the American beaver throughout most of the country. There are also federal laws that regulate hunting and trapping. The American beaver population extends into Mexico, but it is not afforded the same protections there.

Argentina

In 1946, American beavers were introduced to Isla Grande in Tierra del Fuego, close to the southernmost tips of Argentina and Chile. Today they can be found in aquatic habitats in the Andes and in other Chilean islands off Tierra del Fuego archipelago.

As introduced species, the American beavers here are causing widespread destruction of the local environment, mostly because of the dams they construct and the trees they fell to do this. As a result, there are dedicated programs to eradicate the American beaver from these places.

Europe

The Eurasian beaver is currently found in Belarus, China, France, Germany, Mongolia, Norway, and the Russian Federation. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (UCUN) Red List of Threatened Species, it is protected in most areas, although these differ between countries.

Overall, it is protected under the Bern Convention (Appendix III) and the EU Habitats and Species Directive (Annex V for the Swedish and Finnish populations, Annex II and IV for all others).

In Mongolia, just 11% of the species lie within protected areas. Nonetheless, it is protected as Very Rare under part 7.1 of the Law of the Mongolian Animal Kingdom (2000) and is included as Rare in both the 1987 and 1997 Mongolian Red Books.

How Many Beavers Are There In The World?

The American Beaver

Here are many large and stable populations and estimates for the number in North America range from between six and 12 million individuals. There are likely to be a further 35,000 to 50,000 individuals in Isla Grande of Tierra del Fuego.

The Eurasian Beaver

Estimates from 2006 have the Eurasian beaver population to be around 639,000 individuals. However, the actual numbers are likely to be greater because the populations and their territories have been trending towards expansion for several decades.

In Mongolia, there are about 150 individuals and China has around 700. China is also home to a rare beaver subspecies (Castor fiber birulai), one of the least known aquatic mammals in the country.

Today, there may be as few as 500 individuals living in a narrow strip of land about 50 kilometers long (31 miles) and 500 meters (0.3 miles) wide at the Buergan River Beaver Reserve along the Xinjiang-Mongolian border.

What Would Happen If Beavers Went Extinct?

Beavers are a keystone species. According to National Geographic, keystone species are important for the ecosystem they are part of, so much so that if they were taken away, the ecosystem might collapse through a lack of species diversity.

American beavers are one of the most important keystone species in North America. Known as “ecosystem engineers”. Their habit of cutting down trees to build river dams and lodges continuously manipulates the landscape to create ponds and dams that other animals use.

If beavers were to become extinct, some areas would be overgrown with aggressive trees that would eventually come to dominate the area.

Without the dams that beavers built, the fish and aquatic insects that relied on protected bodies of water would struggle to survive, as would the numerous aquatic birds that fed on them.

What Threatens Beavers?

For both American and Eurasian beavers, there are two main threats to beaver populations: habitat loss and conflict with humans.

Habitat Loss

Beavers are semi-aquatic animals, which means that they live in and around freshwater aquatic environments such as streams, rivers, and ponds. They prefer wooded areas but can survive in agricultural or swamplands.

Human activity such as claiming the land for farming and agriculture, roads, and urbanization can damage beaver habitats and force them into environments for which they are not well suited.

Conflict with Humans

The natural behavior of beavers is to cut trees down to make dams to live in. This results in widespread tree felling, damming, and flooding, which can be at odds with human activity such as farming and urbanization, as well as natural processes like fish migration and prevention of silt build-up.

This all means that people who are reliant on these activities might seek means to get rid of the beavers that make their lives more difficult.

Predation

Beavers are also threatened by the animals that prey on them, but this does not currently pose a threat to population sizes.

American beavers are a food source for coyotes, hawks, lynx, eagles, mountain lions, owls, wolverines, wolves, and brown and black bears.

Eurasian beavers are eaten by a diverse array of predators including red foxes, brown bears, lynx, and Eurasian wolves.

Does Climate Change Affect Beavers?

Yes, there is evidence that climate change affects beavers. Significantly, beavers can contribute to climate change as well.

Climate Change Affecting Beavers

As we experience warmer global temperatures, beavers in the northern hemisphere can move further northwards than they have ever been.

According to wildlife ecologist Helen Wheeler from Anglia Ruskin University in the United Kingdom, this could be because the shrubs and trees that beavers use to build their dams and lodges are also growing further northwards.

We may also have lengthier periods without snow, which means that beavers have more time throughout the year to forage in the summer.

Beavers Contributing to Climate Change

Beavers are well known for the dams that they create. New research published in Science magazine suggests that the sediments that collect behind these dam walls capture carbon in the area and keep it out of the atmosphere.

However, when these dams are abandoned and the sediment disturbed, the carbon leaks back out into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.

How Beavers Nearly Went Extinct

Beavers, like so many other animals, were exploited by humans for their precious fur. The fur-trading that happened in the late 1800s almost made the entire species extinct. Luckily, fur trading stopped in the 1900s and the North American beaver managed to recover from it. Since it has been over a century, they have had plenty of time to reproduce and expand their numbers.

In addition to their highly valued fur, the castoreum found in mature beavers was used in food, perfumes, and medicine.