Justin and José Were Here
|Ann Rafalko is Director of Online Content.|
In case you’re unfamiliar with the furry duo, perhaps we should offer an introduction. You see, José Beaver is no ordinary beaver. José is, in fact, the first confirmed beaver living within New York City limits in the more than 200 years since his furry forebears were hunted and trapped into local extinction for their luxurious pelts. Beavers were once so important to New York City they are featured on the city’s seal, and frequently act as adornment on buildings around town (and in place names, too).
So, you can see why such a fuss was made when José’s very existence in New York City was confirmed. José is a living link to history. And it only got better when, in October, the existence of José’s pal was confirmed. In a nod to popular culture, he was dubbed Justin Beaver (though, it remains possible that Justin may one day be deemed a Justine–beavers are notoriously hard to sex).
There is a certain element of ecological beauty inherent in José and Justin’s choice of settlement within the city’s borders. The location for The New York Botanical Garden was chosen for many reasons, chief among them the spectacular gorge that the Bronx River cuts across the Garden’s grounds, and for the site’s unblemished, majestic, old growth Forest. Today, the Forest’s 50-acres exists as the largest remaining tract of the glorious woodlands that once covered all of the five boroughs, and which provided the city’s Native Americans and European settlers with the natural bounty that allowed New York to become one of the world’s most powerful cities.
But it was New York City’s own success that led not just to the extinction of the beavers, but also led many areas within the city to the brink of ecological disaster. In some places, including the Bronx River, unrestrained growth and lax regulation led to polluted waterways, dirty air, and dangerously toxic conditions. Due to many advances in regulation, technology, and community activism these dire conditions no longer exist. The Bronx River is once again clean and beautiful (and will hopefully continue to be so), and nothing exemplifies that quite so eloquently as the existence of José and Justin.
And while we have no new photos of José and Justin to share with you, we do have these pictures demonstrating that, despite the cold and the snow, the pair are hard at work on their home on the Bronx River. And so we ask you: What do José and Justin mean to you? What other signs of the health of New York City’s ecosystem have you seen? What helps connect your present New York to the city of the past?