From the New York Times:
After 200 Years, a Beaver Is Back in New York City
By ANAHAD O’CONNOR
Published: February 23, 2007
A crudely fashioned lodge perched along the snow-covered banks of the Bronx River — no more than a mound of twigs and mud strewn together in the shadow of the Bronx Zoo — sits steps away from an empty parking lot and a busy intersection.
Scientists say that the discovery of this cone-shaped dwelling signifies something remarkable: For the first time in two centuries, the North American beaver, forced out of town by agricultural development and overeager fur traders, has returned to New York City.
The discovery of a beaver setting up camp in the Bronx is a testament to both the animal’s versatility and to an increasingly healthy Bronx River.
A few years ago the river was a dumping ground for abandoned cars and rubber tires, but it has been brought back to life recently through a big cleanup effort.
The biologists who discovered the beaver say they have nicknamed it José, after United States Representative José E. Serrano of the Bronx, who has directed $15 million in federal funds toward the river’s rebirth.
In an interview, Mr. Serrano said he had always envisioned the river getting cleaner, “but I don’t know to what extent I imagined things living in it again.”
A number of people reported seeing the beaver last fall, but biologists figured that the sightings were much more likely to have been of muskrats, which are somewhat common in the area.
But the biologists were intrigued enough to investigate, and after trudging the riverbanks, they spotted gnawed tree stumps and the 12-foot-wide lodge — evidence that pointed to beavers, which are rarely seen in the wild because they tend to work at night and avoid people.
Then on Wednesday, the biologists were able to videotape the animal on film, swimming up the river looking for more material to insulate its home.
The animal is several feet long, two or three years old, and appeared to be a male in search of a mate, said one of the biologists, Patrick Thomas, the curator of mammals at the Bronx Zoo, which is run by the Wildlife Conservation Society.
He speculated that the beaver had traveled to the Bronx from Westchester County or other, more rural areas that are common beaver habitats.
He said that it would be interesting to see if a mate had accompanied José or whether one would come down and help start a new beaver community.
That would be unusual, to say the least, because such a community of beavers is something New York City has not seen since Times Square was still farmland.
A beaver sighting was reported last month in East Hampton on Long Island.
Environmental officials said that if it was a beaver, it may have come across the Long Island Sound from Connecticut or from Gardiners Island, a tract of private land between Long Island’s forks.
The North American beaver vanished from New York City in the early 1800s as a result of trapping, fur trading, and deforestation.
Beavers helped speed Manhattan’s development by attracting fur traders who were eager to feed huge demands for their pelts in Europe.
To this day, beavers remain tightly linked to New York’s identity.
Images of the beaver are on the official seal and flag of New York City.
It is the official state animal of New York State, and a Beaver Street is between Broadway and Wall Street in Lower Manhattan.
See also here.
Update December 2008: here.
Beaver video and Brehms Tierleben text: here.
Double-crested cormorants in New York City: here.