A beaver showed up in downtown Durham on Monday. What’s going to happen to it?

A beaver was spotted swimming in the waterway that flows through the American Tobacco Campus, giving shoppers and office workers a dam good start to the week.

“We have confirmed reports of a beaver swimming in the Old Bull River near the Water Tower stage,” a Monday morning email from American Tobacco Campus stated. “For your safety, please do not approach the beaver.”

Kenny Barone, who works in a startup in The American Underground, spotted the critter on his lunch break.

“It was really cute. It was doing laps and seemed pretty comfortable. ... He was really moving,” Barone said. “I’m just really bewildered as to how it got there.”

Old Bull River isn’t connected to other waterways, according to a 2004 Triangle Business Journal feature on its construction, so it’s unclear how the beaver found its way into the water feature.

The American Tobacco Trail tracks along a creek and connects to the business and restaurant complex from the south.

But mystifyingly, the beaver was first spotted on the northern edge of American Tobacco, closer to the downtown core.

That’s according to Adam Klein, director of Durham real estate for Capitol Broadcasting Co., which built the campus.

Klein said they contacted a private company that specializes in trapping and relocation, which picked the beaver up around 4:30 p.m.

Illegal to relocate beavers in NC

State wildlife biologist Falyn Owens said beavers are very common in North Carolina.

“On the surface of it, I’m not surprised to hear they’re somewhere near downtown,” Owens said. “It might have gone on a walkabout and just found a body of water and been confused as to how to get back where it came from.”

Barone said the area didn’t look like the most hospitable place for a beaver.

“It kept coming up and like sniffing at the air, probably looking for something to eat or something to build a dam with,” Barone said. “I really hope the water isn’t chlorinated.”

It is, Klein said, which was part of the reason they knew it couldn’t stick around.

It wasn’t immediately clear what would happen to the creature, which attracted nicknames like “Chipper” and “Wool E. Beav” when next-door neighbors the Durham Bulls posted a photo online.

Durham Bulls production designer Paxton Rembis sighted a beaver in the river flowing through American Tobacco Campus on Monday, January 30, 2023.
Durham Bulls production designer Paxton Rembis sighted a beaver in the river flowing through American Tobacco Campus on Monday, January 30, 2023.

Klein said early Monday that they intended to relocate it, but that would go against state law.

“It is against the law in North Carolina to relocate beavers,” Owens said. “If the beaver is physically removed, legally speaking the only option could be to euthanize it. Usually the best option is to just leave it alone and hope it moves on or sticks around and doesn’t cause any trouble.”

Owens explained beaver dams can cause property damage and flooding, plus the animals are territorial and will kill a beaver if it’s not from there.

“It’s about not wanting to move the problems onto someone else’s property,” she said. “There’s also dire consequences to the beavers themselves.”

Klein said at 5 p.m. that they’d just gotten off the phone with the game warden and secured permission to relocate the beaver to a nearby waterway. He said there was some “gray area” since the animal was in good health and there was suitable habitat nearby.

Beavers a ‘great conservation success’

The beaver is the continent’s largest rodent, feeding primarily on tree bark, according to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

Beavers are native to the state, but were driven to extinction by fur trappers in the 19th century, the commission reports. North Carolina’s current beaver population descends from a Pennsylvania colony brought down in 1939. Owens said it was one of the “great conservation success stories.”

They play an important role in wetland ecology through their dams, which slow the water so it’s deep enough for the beavers to swim.

“All of the bits of soil and dirt and sediment that’s in the water, as well as potential pollutants, are allowed to settle and leave the water,” Owens explained.

Licensed trappers can take beavers between November and March. They’re valued for their warm fur, and their anal secretions are used in perfumes. Plus, they’re edible.

“They provide a lot of great services, whether they’re alive and contributing to their local ecosystem or if they have to be removed,” Owens said.

The Durham Report

Calling Bull City readers! We've launched The Durham Report, a free weekly digest of some of the top stories for and about Durham published in The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun. Get your newsletter delivered straight to your inbox every Thursday at 11 a.m. featuring links to stories by our local journalists. Sign up for our newsletter here. For even more Durham-focused news and conversation, join our Facebook group "The Story of my Street."