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Nutria Rats Extermination
by Craig Daniel on Dec 13, 2013
It sounds like a bad horror movie pitch: giant invasive rats are eating Louisiana. Not the residents, mind you, these rodents are slowing destroying the state's landmass at a rate of 40 square miles a year. They’re called nutria, and they’re one of the most destructive invasive species in the United States.
From South America with Erosion
A nutria (also called a coypu), is a 20-pound semi-aquatic rodent from South America. Imagine the illicit product of a love affair between a large rat and a beaver and you’ve got a pretty fair image of a nutria.
Nutria was imported to Louisiana in the 1930s, to be farmed for their beaver-like fur. It just so happened that Louisiana’s swampy coastline was an ideal environment for this semi-aquatic rodent. Do you know what the problem is with farming intelligent rodents? They escape.
Even with human hunters, alligators and other bayou predators, the nutria thrived in their new home. At present, its estimated Louisiana is home to four million of these pesky creatures.
So how is a giant water-rat slowly shrinking Louisiana? The nutria eats plants vital for the prevention of coastal erosion. Without those plants, the state's coastline is eroding at an alarming rate.
Controlling the nutria population has proven difficult. Before the 1980s, hunting nutria for their fur provided some degree of aquatic rat pest control. When public opinion turned against fur-wearing, the demand for nutria pelts dropped and the rodent population boomed.
In attempts to cull the nutria population, Louisiana has offered bounties on nutria tails to authorized hunters, with limited success. Some have suggested hunting the animals for their meat might help eradicate them. While nutria meat is by all accounts delicious, many people balk at the idea of eating what is, in appearance anyway, a 20-pound rat.
State officials are hoping to see a resurgence in the demand for nutria fur. As the animals need to be eradicated anyway, they’re hoping retailers and consumers will see nutria pelts as a humane alternative to fur farms. Some fashion designers are beginning to use nutria fur in their designs, but the anti-fur stance is well-established, and it’s debatable if people will see a difference between an invasive species fur and that of a farmed animal.
In the meantime, the nutria continues to enjoy their adopted home. They can affect up to 80,000 acres of coastline at any given time, although the estate's Coastline Nutria Control Program has been able to reduce this estimate to 46,181 acres. The program hopes to harvest 400,000 nutrias a year. Although given the species rate of reproduction, this probably won’t eradicate the problem.
The Rats that Ate Louisiana. You know, maybe it’s not the worst idea for a horror movie Hollywood’s ever seen.
Craig Daniel is a Wildlife removal expert (www.icepest.com). He and often writes about his Pest Control findings on various blogging platforms.
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