Beavers are among the protected species in Europe. The European Union has allowed beaver hunting in three Baltic States and Poland. The beaver is the largest representative of rodents, a true aquatic animal that can perfectly both swim and dive. In Latvia, in the past, beavers (“bebri” in Latvian) have been present in large numbers, as noted by the names of the following populated areas: Bebri”, „Bebrīši”, „Vecbebri”, „Bebroņi”, „Bebrinka”, „Bebruleja”, Bebrupe, Bebrukalns, Bebrene Parish. Beavers were mostly hunted for their skin and the valuable beaver gland secretion, which was used in traditional medicine. The beaver meat is used in cooking, and German hunter tourists say that a kilo of beaver sausage costs fifty euros in Germany. Smoked beaver tail, which is similar to smoked halibut and has a peculiar taste, is seen as a delicacy.
The fact that beaver glands were used in traditional medicine is mentioned not only by Hippocrates at around 400 BC, but also, similar information can be found written on papyrus. The Lonicerus "Herbal Book" issued in 1679 recommends the use of beaver glands to aid nearly all diseases. A gram of dried beaver gland powder cost five gold rubles during the days of the Tsar. Since the beaver menu has a lot of valuable herbs, the beaver glands were considered to be a sort of panacea for all disease. The hunters praise it as a real miracle and as a local viagra. Beaver gland preparations are fast-acting and are both on offer and widely used in modern day. They are used for fixing scents in the fragrances "Romeo", "Opera", "Demon" and many others. The raw materials obtained from beaver glands were also added to the alcoholic beverage "Papardes zieds". Juris Zelvis, a hunter from the Aizkalne Parish in the Preili Municipality, produces beaver gland infusions. This is the only product using beaver glands that is licensed in Latvia. The name of the product is "Fonto de forto" or "Nature Force". Beaver gland infusions are distinguished by their prompt effects.
Beavers are commonly known as the "engineers of the animal world". They build complex dams, canals, cottages. The dam can be based on mud and stones. The beaver adds shrubs, logs to the dam, and on the logs - mud, stones, wet plants are added as a cement-like substance. Such a dam is further maintained and inherited by many following beaver generations. The dams can be up to 600 meters tall. The beaver colonies mostly consist of 4-5 animals - an adult couple with kits from the last two years. Beavers are monogamous - the couple live together until one of them dies. Even if there are several adult females in the beaver colony, only one of them bears kits. It is said that the growth of the beaver family is especially noted with the cosmetic repair of the house using fresh mudballs or grazed twigs.
The beaver cottage is a dome made from twigs and mud that can rise 1-3 m above water, the base diameter can reach 3-12 meters. The house has one inner chamber about 1-2 meters wide and 0.6-0.7 meters high. The floor of the chamber is above water level, layered with dry plants. The surrounding walls can be nearly one meter thick, but there is a ventilation hole above the chamber. One or more exits are created below the winter ice level of the reservoir. The entrance must always be under water so that the chamber is not accessible to land predators. Tunnels can be complicated and stretch for more than ten meters from the entrance. Tunnel width 0.3-0.4 meters. The thickest beaver-cut tree found at the site of the cut has been over one meter in width. A tree with the diameter of 13 cm can be cut by a beaver in 13 minutes.
Beavers are mostly active during the night, but sometimes they can start working in the afternoon. Beavers are active throughout the year, but in winter they leave the cottage only to go to the nearby food storage facility. For some time during the winter, the beaver can become lethargic and survive from body fat reserves, but it will not hibernate. The tail of a beaver is in a very distinctive style - only characteristic to the family, flattened, paddle-shaped or shovel-shaped, covered in rattan plates. While swimming, the tail is used as a paddle, as well as a steering wheel, but when sitting and grooming, the beaver's tail is pressed between the hind legs and pushed forward. When the beaver is sitting in the snow, the tail protects the abdominal organs and the webbed hind-feet from freezing. While walking, a slightly raised tail, moving from one side to the other across the feet, leaves a characteristic curved rail behind it. With a strong hit of the tail against the surface of the water, which sounds like a shot in the silence of the night, the beaver warns the rest of the "family members" of possible dangers. Adult beaver tooth width is at 7-9 mm, the color of the front teeth is orange-red. The beaver's front teeth are strong and grow throughout their life, but wane during tree cutting, faster on the inside than on the outside. In this way, the teeth remain sharp at all times. Even though the beaver looks clumsy, it can move very fast when scared or when attacking. The beaver’s ears are short while diving, special muscles fold them lengthwise, preventing water from entering the ears. The beaver’s lips are chapped. If the beaver wants to graze something under water, it bends the upper lip behind the upper front teeth and tightly presses onto the bottom lip, in which case the water does not enter the mouth. The eyes are small, the nostrils have thick fleshy edges, closeable. Beaver life expectancy is 25-50 years.
The beaver family can accumulate up to 20 cubic meters of twigs for winter food storage. The beavers eat the small branches fully, but only the bark of the larger ones. In winter, they mainly survive on tree bark, branches and saplings. A grown beaver eats 7-8 cubic meters of tree bark, tree branches and saplings a year. Starting with March and April, the beaver gradually switches over to herbaceous foods. In the beginning, the roots of mistletoe, cane and lily of the valley, and later their stems and leaves. Grown beaver eats all kinds of grasses, deciduous bark and branches, aquatic plants and their leaves. In summer, thyrse sorrel, dandelions, reeds and other plants are keenly eaten.
Earlier in Latvia and in the year 1855, River Daugava, near Jekabmiests, two beavers were killed, which might have been the last ones on this side. The last Vidzeme Beaver was killed at the beginning of the seventies two centuries ago (1871 or 1873) in the Rauza river near Smiltene. In 1927, the Norwegian government donated two pairs of beavers to Latvia, which were freed up in the Stende River in the Ugale forest district. After the beavers had arrived, fishing and even walking along the river was prohibited in this area. With a special law, beavers were declared State property: their capture or shooting is punishable with 1-6 months in prison or with a fine of 500-1000 lats.
In 1935, one of the Norwegian beaver couples was sent to Lipsa, a Rauza River tributary. A dam was buit for the beavers, but the animals did not recognize it and built two dams themselves: one - smaller, the other, in the length of 64 m, which they worked on for several years.
In July 1952 five pairs of black Eurasian beavers were brought to Latvia from the Voronezh Nature Reserve. As a trade, the Voronezh Nature Reserve received the Norwegian beavers, which they did not have up to that point. One couple of beavers was sent to Kroje, the Abava tributary, one across the Bangava River, which connects with the Engure and Stende tributaries of the Irbe River through Lake Usma, two couples were sent to Slocene River near Lake Kanieris. The removal of local beavers from the Abava, Venta and Slocene River basins started in 1975 with the aim of moving them to the Gauja, Aiviekste and Perses River basins, as well as Lake Krievupe and elsewhere. Hunting beavers in Latvia became legal in 1980, and 111 beavers were hunted. 100-120 rubles were paid for a good quality beaver skin, which at the time was equal to a monthly salary of an office worker. In 1980, the total number of beavers in the republic was estimated to be around ten thousand.Currently their numbers could range over ninety thousand.
In the northwest of the Western Siberian plain near the Konda River, you can hear a tale on the origin of beavers. "The progenitress of beavers was a weaver. Her many children frequently misbehaved and it had even come to a point where they forbid their mother to drink. She once got so angry at her children that she left them to settle down for life in the water, and turned into a beaver. Her clothes turned into fur, but the weaving board became her tail." The Khanty living near the small Sosva River believed that the beavers were people who had turned into beavers to escape from persecutors. (Alternatively, people are turned into beavers as punishment). A large number of beaver front teeth have been found in the cemetery on the Lake Onega island, beside the vertically placed dead. It is believed that shamans were buried there, whose clothes were decorated with beaver teeth. Apparently, this also explains the fact that the kitchens of the time left almost no beaver bones behind, because they were not simply thrown out, but rather carefully preserved out of respect for this animal. A variety of tools were made from the bones, but the processed front teeth were the absolute best cutting tool.
A Swedish biologist and beaver behaviorist, Lars Wilson, writes that Native Americans considered the beaver to be a supernatural being, but also attributed purely human qualities to it. The beaver meat was in very high regard among Native Americans, the fat was used as protection against freezing, but the very specific beaver glands, together with their secretion, were used in folk medicine. The dead were wrapped in beaver skin and the gift of a beaver was a special sign of friendship.
The Native American legend on the creation of the world states that Earth was originally covered in water. The faithful animals to the Native Americans lived there, ruled by beavers, which were very large at that time. When the spirit Haijavata decided to create land, he asked the beavers for help. They dived in the water and brought up sludge from which all topographic units were formed. The gigantic beavers could also speak. Sometimes one of them abused this skill and was therefore sentenced to death. From a dead beaver’s soul, a human was created, who was very similar to his predecessor in character. Some Native American tribes proudly considered the giant beaver to be their predecessor.
The Latvian Dainas contain about forty volumes, which testify to the direct significance of beavers in the Latvian national economy and everyday life. The number of dainas that mention forest animals exceeds two thousand. The most notable of which is the wolf, probably due to negative economic significance or "evil works". The beaver has been granted many great qualities in folk songs: wisdom, building skill, and the very valuable skin.