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Baby beaver arrives
Baby beaver arrives

First there was Walnut, a male beaver living at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. Then came Nutmeg, a female beaver who came to the zoo from sister zoo Northwest Trek as a companion for Walnut.

And now baby makes three.

Born late last month, the new kit is thriving and growing daily. Fuzzy brown, around 13 inches long and weighing just under 24 ounces, the baby beaver is a nursing champion, taking every chance it can get to nestle up to mom. He or she also eagerly explores its habitat behind the scenes at the zoo’s Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater. The kit is not yet viewable by the public.

Girl or boy? No-one knows, right now. Beavers’ genitalia are hidden inside, making it impossible to determine their sex just by looking. In a few weeks the veterinary team will be able to send a blood sample for genetic testing, which will reveal the sex. At that point, Wild Wonders staff will also choose a name.

Beavers are born precocial, meaning they are a miniature version of adults, seeing well and moving independently.

It spends most of each day snuggled up with mom and dad in their maternity suite at the zoo, where Nutmeg and Walnut have been crowd favorites with the Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater live animal show. They’re also popular during Close Encounters, where guests can get up-close views of various animals.

beaver kit and vet
Dr. Karen Wolf listens to the beaver kit’s heart and lungs.

Meanwhile, the veterinary team is visiting daily, weighing the beaver kit to track growth and check on its health.

“It’s doing very well,” says Wolf. “Since birth this kit has been an eager beaver – if you’ll excuse the pun! – stomping around and looking for a nipple to nurse.”

A second kit was also part of the litter but sadly, it had medical problems, and wasn’t able to nurse. Keepers took shifts around the clock to bottle-feed the little one every two hours, but after a week the veterinary team made the difficult decision to euthanize. A necropsy revealed multiple severe internal problems that would have prevented the kit from surviving.

“It’s sad, but it’s a part of life,” said Head Veterinarian Dr. Karen Wolf. “We gave it our best effort, and it shows the incredible dedication of our zoo staff to care for every animal.”

Nutmeg and Walnut, meanwhile, are vigilant parents, taking turns to nudge Junior whenever the kit roams too far and snuggling up as a threesome for much of the day.

beaver and keeper
Senior staff biologist Maureen O’Keefe with the beaver kit.

“They’re really good parents,” says Maureen O’Keefe, senior staff biologist at Wild Wonders. “If Nutmeg or Walnut go for a swim outside, they’ll cover the kit up with straw to keep it hidden.”

Dad Walnut has also started pulling branches across to the door leading out of the den to the outdoor swimming area.

“We think he might be building a ramp for the baby,” says O’Keefe. “He’s never done that before now.”

Beavers are nature’s engineers, using their phenomenal chewing powers to alter their environment and build lodges (indoor dens) and dams. They’re also very social animals, with family units living together in lodges. And of course, they’re excellent swimmers, with kits learning skills in shallow pools inside the lodge. Keepers are giving the kit supervised swimming time each day in a baby-sized pool.

Walnut, who has lived at the zoo since he was two months old, is already happy to be back at his role in the Wild Wonders show, where he walks up a ramp and into a pool to show off his swimming skills. He’s appearing occasionally at the 3:30 p.m. show on weekends.

Nutmeg and baby, however, will rest behind the scenes for a few months. Sometime this summer, says O’Keefe, all three will make an appearance at a Close Encounter. Stay tuned!

SEE THE SHOW: Find animals and showtimes on the Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater page. Watch this blog for beaver kit updates.