Chasing Beaver at the End of the World

Promotional beaver and penguin wander the streets of downtown Ushuaia

I’ve found my way to the end of the world, or more precisely Ushuaia on the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego. I’m most interested in seeing some of its most recent immigrants, the Canadian beavers (Castor canadensis). Beavers were introduced to the island in 1946 to try and establish a fur trade, the same misguided intent which led to the introduction of Australian possums to New Zealand. As the island invasion story always goes, with no native predators and vulnerable ecosystems, the beavers had the complete run of the island, and have literally begun terraforming it with their network of beaver dams. The landscape is hauntingly like New Zealand, which is not a surprise given the Gondwanan connection via Antarctica, which only makes the beaver logging all the more striking to me.

Promotional beaver and penguin wander the streets of downtown Ushuaia engaging with tourists (Photo by James Russell).

I arrive in Ushuaia and decide my best bet to find beaver is to go hiking in the Tierra del Fuego national park just west of town. With ample tracks I am assured beavers, or at least their sign, are easy to find. A man dressed as a giant penguin walks past me on the street screaming (strangely in English) “follow me beaver”, and then a woman dressed as a giant beaver comes around a corner to follow. I’ll admit to being quite confused by this, what do beavers have to do with penguins, surely they do not belong together? The link is the tourism, despite their completely different roles in this ecosystem, both are cultural icons for the region. I wander in to piratour and ask about each of their penguin and beaver tours. The penguin tour is a clear winner, up to three species of penguin —> Read More