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A beaver in a pond near the village of Lovtsevichi, 50 kilometres northwest of Minsk. The population of the rodents has tripled in a decade to 80,000. Photo: AP

Beaver attacks rising in Belarus after population has tripled in a decade

As rodent's numbers rocket, they pose a growing risk to people and damage forests and farms


The fisherman wanted to be photographed with a beaver. The beaver had other ideas: it attacked the 60-year-old man with its razor-sharp teeth, slicing an artery and causing him to bleed to death.

The incident reported last month was the most serious in a string of beaver attacks on humans in Belarus, where the rodents have turned increasingly aggressive when confronted by humans after wandering near homes, shops and schools.

"The character of the wound was totally shocking for us medical professionals," recalled village doctor Leonty Sulim. "We had never run into anything like this before."

The character of the wound was totally shocking for us medical professionals. We had never run into anything like this before

Once hunted nearly to extinction in Europe, beavers have made a comeback as hunting was banned or restricted and new populations were introduced. In Belarus, a former Soviet nation between Russia and Poland, the beaver population has tripled in the past decade to an estimated 80,000, according to wildlife experts. That has caused beavers increasingly to wander into populated areas, creating more grounds for conflict.

The Belarusian emergency services said this year, for the first time, it had received a rash of reports of aggression by beavers, which can weigh up to 30kg and stand about a metre high on their hind legs. Officials have responded to some calls by sending out crews to drive away the animals, often by spraying them with water from a fire hose.

The fisherman, who has not been named at the request of his family, was driving with friends towards the Shestakovskoye lake, west of the capital, Minsk, when he spotted the beaver along the side of the road and stopped the car. As he tried to grab the animal, it bit him several times. One of the bites hit a major artery in the leg, Sulim said.

The man's friends were unable to stop the bleeding, and he was pronounced dead at Sulim's clinic in the village of Ostromechevo. He is the only person known to have died from a beaver attack in Belarus.

Wildlife experts attribute the upsurge in attacks partly to spring bringing about more aggressive behaviour in young beavers that are sent away to stake out their own territory. Largely nocturnal, beavers can also become disorientated during the daytime and attack out of fear, said expert Viktor Kozlovsky.

Kozlovsky said the large beaver population was beginning to cause significant damage to forests and farms. The Forestry Ministry said it was encouraging the hunting of beavers, once prized for their fur and gland secretions, which were used for medicinal purposes. But since they were such easy targets near dams, said ministry spokesman Alexander Kozorez, "beaver hunting holds little sporting interest". "Hunting them is more like work," he said.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: When Belarus' beavers attack no one is safe