Opinion » Note

Frozen Beavers and Snow Leopards in Love

Animal husbandry and becoming hopelessly lost


For two winters in a row, I dragged frozen beavers through the North Idaho mountains, looking for wolverines. Actually, they were half-beavers. The first one, in 2011, was a front end and the second, in 2012, was a tail end, so I guess that adds up to one whole beaver over two seasons.

No matter, they were experiences to remember and ones my mother roped me into. She, my brother, my wife and I were taking part in an effort by Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness to capture wolverines, martens, fishers and other "mustelids" on film to establish an idea of how many of the animals live in North Idaho and the size of their range. The idea was to drag the sawed-in-half beaver bait to a prearranged GPS point somewhere in the mountains, hang the bait in a tree, affix the carcass with a device meant to snatch a few hairs from any scavenging mustelids, and set a camera trap to snap pictures. After a week we would collect the materials for the researchers on the project.

The first year we got lost and spent the better part of five hours trying to figure out where the hell we were (by one reading of the GPS, we were in Canada). Nonetheless, we hung our beaver and set our surveillance. In that instance, we were skunked—metaphorically. The second year was more successful, and we returned with a photo of an ermine.

The work was supported by a Zoo Boise Conservation Fund grant of nearly $30,000. Mustelids in general, and wolverines in particular, are notoriously elusive, and their numbers are hard to determine. In 2014, wolverines were considered for a threatened species designation, but wildlife officials opted not to list them. Still, identifying the animals in the wild is important work, which would often be impossible without organizations like Zoo Boise.

This week, we feature a story about Zoo Boise's wide-ranging conservation efforts, specifically a new facility that will help the zoo breed mammals in captivity. It is hoped that centers such as Zoo Boise's will help build sustainable populations of at-risk animals that can be preserved in zoos across the country.

If that doesn't make you warm and fuzzy, then the love story of snow leopards Tashi and Kabita will. Happy Valentine's Day.