- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A rabid beaver leaped from a pond and chased a group of children who had gathered for a fishing competition in a Fairfax County park on Saturday — the second beaver attack in the county in a week.

Judy Pedersen, spokeswoman for the Fairfax County Park Authority, said the beaver attacked the children around 11:30 a.m. at the Hidden Pond Nature Center in Springfield.

According to a staff member on duty during the competition, part of the park’s Safari Saturday program, the beaver swam over to a dock where about four or five children were standing with two parents.

“There was a 4-year-old girl a little bit on one side by herself,” Ms. Pedersen said. “The beaver got up on the dock, staggering, and jumped toward the young girl.”

The beaver didn’t touch the girl, and the parents grabbed the children and ran, she said.

Ms. Pedersen said the beaver wandered into the nearby woods during the 15 minutes or so it took for an animal control officer to arrive.

When people went back down to the pond, the beaver reappeared, Ms. Pedersen said.

“I think it was more frightening than dangerous,” Ms. Pedersen said. “The kids were startled. The young lady in particular was probably the most startled, and after she and her parents reconciled, they left there saying, ‘Boy, have we got a fishing tale to tell.’ ”

An animal control officer cleared the area and shot the beaver.

It was tested for rabies over the weekend, and doctors on Tuesday confirmed it had the disease.

The park is nestled in a neighborhood off Old Keene Mill Road. There are four marked trails at the park, as well as the pond, a playground and a picnic area that Johanna Tschebull said is popular with fellow Fairfax County mothers and children.

“I’m not worried. I heard it’s quite unusual,” Ms. Tschebull said Wednesday afternoon as her 3-year-old daughter scampered up the path that rings the pond.

“I know other moms are concerned, but I’m not going to stay away from the pond unless they tell us to. Just use common sense.”

The pond where the beaver emerged is small, with a heavy coat of algae covering its surface and scattered tree branches poking through the water.

Besides the low water level, the pond didn’t appear different to Laurie Hochman and her husband Bob, two West Springfield residents out walking their 16-year-old poodle Zachary on Wednesday, though the idea of a rabid beaver is “really creepy,” she said.

“That is very strange,” Ms. Hochman said. “It makes me wonder if there are other animals or rodents running around [with rabies].”

Last week, an 83-year-old woman was bitten by another beaver while swimming in Lake Barcroft, about 11 miles away. That animal also tested positive for rabies.

Farther away, two girls — ages 11 and 8 — were bitten by a rabid beaver while swimming in Spotsylvania County’s Lake Anna in July. The beaver was killed by someone at the lake.

County spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell said that prior to this month, it had been 12 years since the last report of beaver bites in Fairfax County.

Ms. Pedersen said animal control officials have not seen an increase in the number of confirmed rabies cases, which usually measure between 50 and 60 each year.

“It’s too early to make an assessment of what exactly is going on,” Ms. Pedersen said. “It’s very unusual, but the real meaning is still to be uncovered.”

Lee Walker, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries said unlike a fox or a raccoon that can be easily spotted on land, a rabid beaver is harder to avoid.

“A beaver pops up out of its hut and — boom — you’re in the water, he’s there sitting and staring eyeball to eyeball with you, and you never really had a chance,” Mr. Walker said.

• Meredith Somers can be reached at msomers@washingtontimes.com.

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