Discovering Manitoba

The Amazing White Beaver

The beaver got tired and closed his eyes to rest for a bit.

One sunny fall afternoon, I came upon John and Pam Bartley at the side of the highway in the Whiteshell Provincial Park. John, a trapper for many years and a learned woodsman, had befriended a little white beaver.

After many visits and much patience, the beaver had grown to trust John so much that it would come when he called it. That day John had brought it fresh cuttings of maple to munch on.

John said that, statistically, only one in about 400,000 beavers are born albino. This little one had two siblings, both partially albino, although the parents were the traditional brown.

John and Pam were on their way home but they invited me to stay and photograph this amazing creature in private. I was entertained for a good hour while it swam back and forth, posing with every turn! Then the beaver got tired and closed his eyes to rest for a bit; floating only a few feet from me! All of a sudden, it seemed to realize that the light I needed to photograph was receding. The photo shoot was over and then the beaver was gone.

But the story doesn’t end there.

Soon after my photo shoot, I was talking with Sharon Rogers, who with her husband, John, had the trapline that included the stream where the beaver and his family lived. Sharon told me that her father-in-law was granted this trapline in 1947 and since that time they had recorded six white or albino beaver on their line. In 1970 they were able to live-trap one and gave it to the Winnipeg Zoo, which provided a home.

Although they had to set their traps in that area, they didn’t want to catch the white beaver because there is no market for white beaver pelts. Trappers farm their lines   and, like farmers, they respect the animals in their care. It would be totally foreign to take an animal if its pelt was useless, so John and Sharon went to Natural Resources for help.

Natural Resources was trying, with some urgency, to find a new home for the beaver. The beaver’s notoriety had grownand many sightseers were stopping, in the hopes of seeing the infamous white beaver, on a curve in the road that offered no shoulder. It was dangerous!

There was another danger lurking. Rumours were flying that a poacher was stalking the white beaver.

Natural Resources soon identified a possible new home for the animal.

It takes a special talent to live trap a beaver and John Bartley is one man that can do it, but he turned Natural Resources down flat! John said that the white beaver would not be safe unless there was no other beaver family living in the new area. The prospective new home was already inhabited by a family and beavers will attack one of their own if it is different. John said that the beaver would be vulnerable without his family to protect him. “It would be killed and I will not be a party to that,” he announced flatly.

Natural Resources kept scouring the maps to find a body of water uninhabited by other beaver. Concerns were escalating! And then, just like at the end of the photo shoot, the white beaver and his family were gone. The move could have been prompted by lack of food, or the family might have sensed some danger, or maybe someone they trusted encouraged them to go. I wonder?

A few weeks later, I was glad to hear that John had seen the little beaver and his family in the back country.

I was privileged to have seen and enjoyed the white beaver first hand and I will never forget it! And I will remember also, with admiration, the efforts of the trappers and Natural Resources to protect this very special creature!

- By Judy Cornell

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