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Bacteria kills Swaner beavers, within weeks of four other beaver deaths

Nine beavers have died in the Wasatch Back within the past month. Tularemia bacteria are suspected.
Division of Wildlife Resources
Nine beavers have died in the Wasatch Back within the past month. Tularemia bacteria are suspected. A dead vole was also found at the Jordanelle Dam April 8.

The same bacteria also killed beavers in Wasatch and Utah counties this month.

Swaner staff found five dead beavers between March 23 and April 2. Their lodge is visible from the EcoCenter’s windows, and they operated multiple dams close by.

“Everyone on staff has been watching those beavers right out the window for four years,” Swaner Executive Director Lewis Kogan said. “And I know that everybody was incredibly excited when they first saw the beavers show up and start building a dam here. They weren't transplanted; they showed up on their own and selected this location.”

He said there may be other beavers around the preserve, but all the beavers at the EcoCenter lodge have died.

According to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, the cause is tularemia [“too luh ree me uh”], a bacterial disease acutely fatal to rabbits, hares and other rodents, including beavers.

Four other beavers were found dead this month: one near Midway April 5; two near the Jordanelle Dam April 8; and one near Birdseye, across the Wasatch Mountains from Payson in Utah County, April 10.

The Utah Veterinary Diagnostic Lab and the Utah Public Health Lab tested two beavers from Swaner, one from Midway and the one from Birdseye. All tested positive for tularemia.

“The bacteria that causes this infection is known to be in the environment in many parts of Utah; however, it is unusual to see this many animals die from it at once,” DWR Veterinarian Ginger Stout said.

DWR spokesperson Faith Jolley said the cause of the tularemia infections is under investigation.

The bacteria can be transmitted by infected ticks or deer flies, contact with infected blood or animal tissue or by ingesting contaminated water or the undercooked meat of an infected animal.

Humans can contract tularemia. Symptoms can be flu-like, or more severe, including skin ulcers, mouth sores, diarrhea or pneumonia.

Zoonotic and Vectorborne Disease Epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health and Human Services Heather Oltjen said it’s rarely fatal thanks to antibiotics.

“We recommend that if you're outdoors hiking or recreating, that you take steps to protect yourself against tick bites,” Oltjen said, “wearing insect repellent and also wearing insecticide-treated clothing, wearing long sleeves and long pants to prevent insect bites, making sure that you check yourself for ticks after you've been outside.”

Tick season usually starts when the snow melts. Drinking water in Utah, and around the United States, is treated to remove bacteria like tularemia.

DWR would like the public to report any dead beavers, rabbits or other rodents to their nearest DWR office. But do not touch the carcasses to prevent infection.

Kogan said Swaner’s beavers had grown large—around 50 pounds—and were healthy prior to getting sick. He’s hopeful other beavers will repopulate the EcoCenter lodge, or beavers the DWR relocates could be placed at Swaner.

In the meantime, he said, the preserve will maintain the dams, which benefit the ecosystem’s water retention and water quality.

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