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Beavers get social

For a meet-up of two engineers, things were going swimmingly.

Walnut, the Zoo’s North American beaver, was grabbing a willow branch in his mouth and purposefully dragging it across the grass. His companion Nutmeg, who’d recently moved to her new Zoo home from sister zoo Northwest Trek Wildlife Park, was thoroughly investigating the grassy space.

The two beavers only recently met, but have been getting along wonderfully, said Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater staff supervising them at a recent Close Encounter with Zoo guests.

Nutmeg the beaver and keeper
Nutmeg the new beaver, with staff biologist Adrienne Umpstead.

“They sleep together, they hang out together,” said Adrienne Umpstead, a Wild Wonders staff biologist, giving Nutmeg a gentle scratch as she touched Umpstead’s knee. “Beavers are really social creatures, living together with multiple generations in the wild. So we’re really happy Nutmeg is here.”

Because of that social behavior, the Zoo was looking for a companion for Walnut – and didn’t have to look very far. A long-time animal ambassador at Northwest Trek, Nutmeg was relocated to the Zoo to live with Walnut. The Zoo isn’t planning to breed them.

And the nut-themed names? That’s because nuts are one of the beavers’ favorite treats.

But as well as being social, beavers are also natural engineers. The largest rodent in North America, and the second-largest in the world, beavers are perfectly adapted to restructuring their environment, with strong, gnawing, ever-growing teeth.

Nutmeg and walnut beavers
Beavers Walnut (in front) and Nutmeg at a Close Encounter.

Walnut and Nutmeg are no exception, showing plenty of the skills they would need to build dams and lodges in the wild and chewing through the tree branches that keepers give them daily in addition to high-nutrient beaver chow, fruit and veggies.

“When we give them their food in the morning, they’ll take it away and rearrange it all,” said Umpstead. “They like order.”

Part of the Zoo’s animal ambassador program, Walnut and Nutmeg live at the Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater.

-Rosemary Ponnekanti, PDZA