One woman's effort to bring back an endangered species
By Tao Yuan

"Go slow, go slow, watch out the furs," Chu Wenwen shouts like a mad woman. Fifty meters away, her team is digging out the dead bodies of two beavers which were frozen in two ice cubes. 

Altay locates on China's northwestern tip. In late February, the area was capped with snow. Temperature could be as low as minus 20 degrees. The Ulungur River here is the only habitat for beavers in China. Now, there are only around 500 of them left. 

Wenwen is known as the "queen of beavers." The 24-year-old wildlife photographer now runs a non-government organization called "True Nature Conservation Association." Beavers have always been her favorite.

"They are so cute with their flat tail, round eyes, and chubby body," she says. "And they are the smartest animals I know."

Close up of a beaver /VCG Photo

Close up of a beaver /VCG Photo

Wenwen has seen the death of many beavers. These two were the latest victims of climate change. 

So she kept her distance as her team retrieved the bodies. "I'll collapse if I get close."

These two beavers came out from their underwater winter lodge searching food for their baby. But the river was running dry. The ice cover thickened, the pair got stuck between the ice and the riverbed and froze to death. 

A few days later, Wenwen's team found the body of their baby.

"The whole family died, in their home, just for a little bite to eat," Wenwen says. She's planning on sending the bodies to a taxidermist to recreate their death. "Out of respect for their lives, and their death," Wenwen says. 

A beaver is eating bark from an aspen tree branch. /VCG Photo

A beaver is eating bark from an aspen tree branch. /VCG Photo

But Wenwen takes consolation in another beaver, a young one who got trapped in an irrigation canal. It had wanted to spend the winter there, but the farmers drained the channel after harvest, and it lost all the food it had stored for the winter. 

Wenwen enlisted the help of a local villager, Talihati, to take care of the animal. She gave the old former soldier carrots to feed the beaver as well as equipment to film it coming out of its lodge to eat. Wenwen wants to help the beaver survive the cruel winter in Altay and then release it back to the wild in the coming spring when the weather gets warmer. 

"It's only one beaver," she says. "But every one matters. To watch it die is not something I can bear." 

(Cover image via video capture) 

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