A man named Richard R. Buech has spent the past six years working toward a doctorate from the University of Minnesota by studying the behavior of the American beaver. He fitted a number of the animals with radio-transmitting collars, observed their night-time activities with a special scope and even put on a wet suit and tried to swim with them. ("I found that I couldn't keep up," he says.)
Some of his observations were reported in the science section of The New York Times last week. The main conclusion we draw from them is that beavers are much like people, especially American people. They build wherever it pleases them, value quick access to food, cut down trees, insulate their homes to maintain a cozy temperature in subzero weather and have a trendy California-style diet of twigs, aquatic plants and leafy foliage.
In fact, the only way beavers seem to differ greatly from humans (and from most other mammals as well) is that they're more successful in maintaining monogamous relationships. Since litters are small and little beavers must be cared for for two years, mutual faithfulness is the best way for a couple to ensure survival of the largest number of offspring, according to Mr. Buech. He describes this in terms of maximizing the return on their genetic "investment." It's an impressive display of natural good sense and an example for our own species. In defense of people, though, we suspect that they, too, would behave themselves a little better if they had somebody keeping track of them with a radio-transmitting collar.