River Otter Fisheries Association
Beaver Behaviour and Interactions with Anglers
On most occasions beavers will ignore anglers, but occasionally adult beavers may perceive anglers as a threat and display some defensive behaviours, for example: slapping their tail on the water, hissing or grinding their teeth, or making a ‘mock charge’.
If you are close to an adult beaver when it ‘tail-slaps’ the water, it can be intimidating - although the sound is not dissimilar to a sea trout jumping. Beavers are large animals, and the noise created by a ‘tail-slap’ is designed to scare away predators and warn other beavers of a possible threat. Beavers that feel threatened may also make a hissing sound, grind their teeth, or make a ‘mock-charge’ (swimming towards you on the surface).
We have had at least one case of an angler, wading in the River Otter, who reported feeling intimidated by these behaviours. But others have heard or seen ‘tail-slaps’ and not felt any concern, especially when the beaver itself then swims away. On other occasions, a beaver will just swim past you peacefully, or leave the area after your arrival without doing anything.
It is important to stress that healthy beavers do not generally bite or attack people (they are after all herbivores) apart from when people have tried to pick them up or have inadvertently cornered them. The only reported fatality we are aware of is of a man in Belarus who was bitten when he tried to grab a beaver to have his picture taken with it. In countries where rabies is endemic, rabid beavers have been known to bite people; but this is not currently a problem in the UK of course.
Such defensive behaviour is more likely to be encountered in the period May – July when beaver kits are in and around the burrow. Beavers also appear to be more defensive towards otters and dogs during this period.
So, if you find yourself in the water with a beaver during May – July, it is probably best to quietly move away to another area. And it is wise, at any time, to exercise appropriate and sensible caution when in the river near beavers.
If you experience any issues with beavers we would be very keen to hear what happened, as would the Devon Wildlife Trust. Please e mail details of any significant encounters to ROFA at email@example.com, copying the message to firstname.lastname@example.org.