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Canada Leave it to beavers, they're loving the big-city life

Joao Camara, the long-serving night watchman at the Island Yacht Club, says that he's never seen signs of such a busy beaver in 44 years at the club on the Toronto Islands.

One beaver -- he thinks it's an enormous female weighing in at nearly 30 kilograms, the size of a fairly large dog -- has been chewing through some of the biggest cottonwood trees at the club.

Around him, a line of the stately trees, the dominant species on the archipelago that separates Toronto Harbour from Lake Ontario, have been chewed through at the base. These aren't puny trees, but big ones that a man would have trouble wrapping his arms around.

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"In one night, she [the beaver]took three [trees]down. A couple of bites, they were gone," Mr. Camara related recently to visitors at the club.

Although few Torontonians know it, the city's 2.3 million two-legged mammals share their urban area with a thriving community of a few hundred beavers, the country's biggest rodents.

Hunting nearly wiped out beavers in many parts of Canada during the fur-trade years. But they have made a comeback, naturalists say, and now are seen in the Don, Humber and Rouge River valleys, as well as on the Toronto Islands and in the inner harbour, just below the row of condominiums that have sprung up along Queens Quay West.

The city of Toronto's urban forester, Richard Ubbens, says beavers have been a fixture in the area for years, although many people are surprised when they see them for the first time in such a developed setting.

"It's one of these native North American little creatures that has also got a place in the valley lands of Toronto," he said. "We get a lot of people who call us saying they're really excited because they've seen beavers and they didn't realize that they were around."

People are usually thrilled by the sightings, in part because of the animal's historic importance, he added. "They're glad to see them. That probably has something to do with the history of Canada," he said. "By and large, [the beavers are]seen as a welcome comeback."

On the Toronto Islands, Mr. Camara says, the beavers have caused a stir among the small staff of night guards who watch the various yacht clubs during the winter season when most activity on the waterfront ceases.

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Not only have the animals been chewing up trees at the Island Yacht Club; they've made their way to the best-known club on the islands, the Royal Canadian Yacht Club. Mr. Camara says that one watchman there claims he has actually caught a glimpse of the critter believed to be chewing through the big trees.

"Someone at the RCYC said it was huge, a big thing, maybe 60 pounds," Mr. Camara said. He himself is waiting for a glimpse: "I haven't seen her this year."

The extent of the damage has surprised some of the park workers, who say they can't recall the animals trying to chew down really big trees before.

"Wow. This is the mother of all beaver damage," Joe Padovani, a foreman for the parks department on the Toronto Islands, said recently while inspecting the beaver browsing activities.

The city doesn't make efforts to control the spread of beavers or to contain their numbers, which have not yet reached levels that would endanger tree cover on the waterfront or in river valleys. Beavers topple trees in order to forage on their twigs and bark.

Beavers eat mainly deciduous trees, and the poplars and willows they chew on the islands will typically sprout again. However, city forestry staff will place fences around the trunks of valuable trees to protect them.

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