Hobby wildlife photographer Mike Digout has taken countless pictures of animals throughout the years. He especially loves capturing beavers living in the river valley of Saskatoon, Canada, and the incredible way they use scent for survival.
Digout usually tries to catch the beavers doing their everyday routines, like eating and grooming. But he’s really interested in catching them marking their territory with small mounds of mud called scent mounds, which they collect from the riverbed.
By placing these small mounds along the edges of their territory and spraying them with scent, they’re able to warn other beavers not to enter their protected space.
You can watch a beaver make a scent mound here:
Naturally, when Digout saw a beaver preparing to dive underwater in search of materials for a scent mound, he quickly grabbed his camera to capture the sight as it unfolded. But the images on the other side of the viewfinder were unlike anything he’d ever seen before.
“As soon as the beaver popped out of the water, I realized that he had a giant plastic bag in his arms,” Digout told The Dodo. “Usually what they scrape off the bottom [of the riverbed] is 90% mud with a few weeds and a stick in it. But most of what this beaver had was garbage.”
The beaver finished making his scent mound with the trash he’d collected — the same way he would with typical materials.
“He just put it down, scraped it up and put his scent on it,” Digout said. “There shouldn’t be so much garbage in the river that a beaver comes up with some.”
Digout typically avoids posting any wildlife pictures with trash in the frame, but when he saw the beaver using garbage from the river, the photographer knew he had to share it.
“I shared the photo in hopes that it would give some people pause to think, ‘Maybe we’ve gotta do better,’” Digout said.
Digout now returns to the river weekly to collect trash. With the help of local conservation group Meewasin Valley Authority (MVA), he’s working to keep garbage out of beaver territory the best he can.
MVA holds trash-cleaning campaigns on a regular basis that anyone can participate in, including Digout.
“It’s not an easy solution,” Digout said. “But there are a lot of people who care, and hopefully these photos can re-motivate the people who are already inclined to help.”