WILD LIFE | 05.24.16

Mealtime Swim

Back from the brink, Eurasian beavers are once again an integral part of the river ecosystem in France's Loire Valley.

Photograph by Louis-Marie Preau

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Prized for both their fur and their castoreum—a scent-gland secretion once believed to cure everything from headaches to hysteria, Eurasian beavers were nearly hunted to extinction by the middle of the 19th century. In France, the species (

Castor fiber

) was nearly wiped out entirely, with the exception of a small population of about 100 individuals in the lower Rhone valley. But a combination of local hunting prohibitions and reintroduction programs brought these animals back from the brink, and there are now more than 14,000 beavers in the country. Photographer Louis-Marie Preau has been watching beavers in the Loire region of western France for more than 15 years. He’s never forgotten the first time he saw an adult delivering a tasty branch to its family underwater—but it took him four years to successfully capture this intimate scene. Each evening, wearing snorkeling gear and weights, he would lie motionless on the riverbed for two to three hours. Finally, one evening, his patience paid off. Preau had only just plunged into the water and positioned himself when this adult returned with a freshly harvested poplar branch to feed to its three young kits. He was impressed by the beaver’s strength and determination, as it dragged this leafy meal through the water.

Saumur, France

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ABOUT THE Photographer

Louis-Marie Preau has loved nature and photography since he was a child. Growing up in Pays de la Loire, France, he spent many happy hours observing wildlife. A professional photographer since 2001, Preau is dedicated to capturing the beauty of nature. He has won numerous international awards for his work, including the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, and his images have been published in several books and numerous wildlife magazines.

Louis-Marie Preau

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