Mammal Research

, Volume 64, Issue 2, pp 279–288 | Cite as

Causes of death of beavers (Castor fiber) from eastern Germany and observations on parasites, skeletal diseases and tooth anomalies—a long-term analysis

  • Clara StefenEmail author
Original Paper


The Eurasian beaver, Castor fiber, was nearly extirpated, and in Germany, the relict population at the Middle Elbe, was strictly protected. In the 1930s, the collection and analysis of carcasses of this then-endangered species began in Zerbst, Anhalt, and since 1957 was continued at the Zoological Institute of the University of Halle, Saxony-Anhalt. Records of varying detail from 1282 beavers found dead were recorded up to the year 2009. Here, this unique and valuable dataset is analysed coherently with the focus on the main causes of death separated by age class, sex, month and decade. Traffic accidents have been the major cause of mortality overall since the 1980s, while infections and inflammations have been the main natural cause, with fluctuating frequency during the decades and a peak in the 1950s. With the increased population size and distribution of beavers, routine collection and analysis of cadavers ceased in Halle in 2009. Here, it is argued however that irrespective of the conservation status of beavers, the regular post-mortem surveillance and analysis, of at least regional samples, allows for general health monitoring and provides knowledge about the prevalence of pathogens and parasites and their occurrence, or emergence, and information about contamination with toxins. Additionally, the specimens can contribute to collections for future studies.


Infections Parasites Skeletal diseases: osteoporosis and exostosis Tooth and jaw anomalies Traffic 



Special thanks are due to all the people who volunteered to monitor beavers as well as the responsible people in administrative bodies and the Zoological Institute Halle which has collected the beaver carcasses over a long time period. Several preparators including Mr. H.-J. Altner and other specialists like microbiologists, entomologists, toxicologists etc. were involved in the dissections and in some of the analyses. Without their work, the data would not exist today. Gratitude goes to Dr. K. Schneider for giving access to the data sheets in the museum records and supervising the student intern, V. Nickel, who transferred part of the data to the table. I also would like to thank Dr. F. Steinheimer, director of the Central Repository of Natural Science Collections of the University in Halle, for the permission to use and study the data. Mrs. E. Orrison, Dresden, checked the English. The editor and anonymous reviewers offered helpful comments that improved the manuscript.

Supplementary material

13364_2018_405_MOESM1_ESM.doc (75 kb)
Supplementary Table 1 (DOC 75 kb)
13364_2018_405_MOESM2_ESM.doc (205 kb)
Supplementary Table 2 (DOC 205 kb)
13364_2018_405_MOESM3_ESM.wbk (228 kb)
Supplementary Table 3 (WBK 228 kb)
13364_2018_405_MOESM4_ESM.doc (60 kb)
Supplementary Table 4 (DOC 59 kb)
13364_2018_405_Fig4_ESM.png (433 kb)
Fig. S1

Frequency (%) of beavers of different age groups (AG) A) AG 0 &1, B) AG 2 & 4 found in different months by sex: F = female, M = male. Basis: carcasses found in each age class with known month of finding. The number of the sample of each group is given (n=) (PNG 433 kb)

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High resolution image (EPS 4043 kb)
13364_2018_405_Fig5_ESM.png (147 kb)
Fig S2

Frequency of beavers found dead over the years by age class (PNG 146 kb)

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High resolution image (EPS 2104 kb)
13364_2018_405_Fig6_ESM.png (101 kb)
Fig. S3

Frequency (%) of the occurrence of the skeletal diseases exostosis (exost), osteoporosis (osteop) and tooth defects (toothd), as well as of the parasites trematodes (trem), mites and beaver beetles (beaverb) by decade. Data for all age classes are given in Table S3 (PNG 100 kb)

13364_2018_405_MOESM7_ESM.eps (1.3 mb)
High resolution image (EPS 1338 kb)


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Copyright information

© Mammal Research Institute, Polish Academy of Sciences, Białowieża, Poland 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Senckenberg Naturhistorische Sammlungen DresdenMuseum für TierkundeDresdenGermany

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