Camera traps captured images of a beaver in the woods of Tarvisiano in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, the far north-eastern corner of Italy that borders both Austria and Slovenia.
The same beaver, identified by wildlife researchers as a male, has been filmed and photographed several times over the past week, always on his own. They believe the animal crossed into Italy from Austria.
Researchers have nicknamed the historic specimen “Ponta” in honour of Renato Pontarini, the photographer who caught the first glimpse of him, as well as in reference to the bridges that beavers famously engineer ('ponte' is the Italian for bridge).
Ponta is “a new and important ambassador for the protection of our wonderful valleys,” commented Project Lynx Italy, the University of Turin research and conservation project of which Pontarini is part. The Tarvisiano area is “the most important wildlife corridor” between Italy and the rest of the Alps, it said.
Locals had already begun to suspect the area had a new resident when they noticed unusual tracks and gnawed branches, according to the Messaggero Veneto. They alerted conservation experts, who set hidden cameras in the hope of catching a glimpse of the new arrival.
Eurasian beavers were once common from Britain to China, but were hunted to near extinction for their fur and – gulp – anal secretions, which previous generations used to add scent to perfume and flavour to food. While the species has been successfully reintroduced in parts of its former habitat, it remained extinct in Italy from the 16th century to today.
The beaver isn't to be confused with an imported lookalike: what Italians call a 'castorino' (little beaver), and what you may have spotted swimming in the rivers of Rome or Florence, is in fact a nutria or coypu – an invasive species imported from South America for its fur once the supply of native beavers ran out.
The rodents, which are dead ringers for beavers apart from their thin, round tails, are considered a pest in many rural regions of Italy, where farmers complain that they eat crops and burrow into river banks and irrigation channels, placing fields at risk of floods.
Photo: Oasi LIPU