Illustration by Kara Crabb
Last October, Canadian senator Nicole Eaton called the beaver, one of Canada’s official emblems, a “dentally defective rat.” She made the case that the country should instead embrace the “stately” polar bear, setting off a mini-debate over what the beaver truly means to Canucks.
In the 1600s, one of the region’s most lucrative occupations was clubbing, skinning, and selling these bucktoothed critters, which basically sustained Canada’s economy until the 19th century. But in modern pipeline-building, oil-exporting Canada, you might think that beavers don’t serve a purpose outside of being cute and gnawing on things; you’d also be wrong.
Canada’s fur exports brought in more than $450 million in 2010, up 36 percent from the year before and more than triple the paltry $148 million the industry brought in during recession-tastic 1992. The upswing in the fur economy is the result of exploding consumer demand in emerging markets like Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and northern China, where the middle class is growing and discovering how smooth and snuggly Canadian beaver coats and stoles can be. And successful beaver conservation efforts over the past few decades means there should be enough warm, fuzzy beaver to wrap our bodies in for the forseeable future.