After an absence from Italy of nearly 500 years, beavers are back.
The species, which was once widespread across Europe, has been spotted in Italy’s northerly region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
The animals are believed to have wandered over the border from neighbouring Austria or possibly Slovenia.
An adult beaver was filmed by a camera trap in a forest near Tarvisio, a town that lies in the triangle where Italy, Austria and Slovenia converge.
Footage showed the beaver, which weighed around 15kg, clambering out of a pond and grooming itself with its front paws.
The presence of beavers in the area was first suspected by local hunters and forest rangers, who spotted gnaw marks on the trunks of trees
They alerted experts from Turin University who set up camera traps that then caught the beavers on film.
“The reason beavers disappeared from Italy is simple – for hundreds of years they were trapped for their fur and also prized for their meat,” Paolo Molinari, a wildlife biologist working in the region, told The Telegraph.
“They were then given protection and were reintroduced in recent decades across Mitteleuropa, from Austria to Croatia and Slovenia. Their reappearance in Italy has come a little earlier than we expected.
“We hope that in the spring they might form a breeding population. It’s very good news,” said Mr Molinari.
By felling trees with their sharp teeth and damming streams, beavers create ponds which benefit many other species, from amphibians and birds to fish and aquatic insects.
Their impact on the environment is being felt in Scotland, where beavers have been reintroduced after the species was driven to extinction in Britain in the 16th century.
It is not just beavers that are on the rebound in northern Italy.
The golden jackal, an elusive animal normally found in the Balkans, the Middle East and parts of Asia, has also begun to spread into Italy.
After decades of being hunted, trapped and poisoned, the jackal – Canis aureus – has reestablished healthy populations in Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia and is now moving steadily west.
The species has been spotted in the Italian regions of Veneto, Lombardy, Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Trentino-South Tyrol, where its prey includes roe deer.
Jackals are now believed to have crossed the Po River in northern Italy and to be slowly spreading south.
Experts say the expansion of the species is due to official protection as well as by the historic persecution in many areas of wolves, leaving an ecological vacuum that jackals have exploited.
“It appears that people have triggered the expansion of golden jackals by almost eradicating the wolf,” according to the European Wilderness Society. “Golden jackals tend to avoid wolf territories because of competition.”
Experts say the reappearance of beavers and golden jackals shows that the mountains and forests of the border region between Austria, Slovenia and Italy act are an important corridor for wildlife.
“We’re seeing lots of animals returning, including brown bears, wolves, lynx and otters,” said Mr Molinari, a member of the Italian Lynx Project, which aims to restore the lynx to its former range and to mitigate conflicts with farmers.