«Look, a beaver!» And a few hundred meters further along the Canal du Rhone au Rhin: «Look, there’s another beaver!» But when we come across yet another, particularly intrepid beaver keeping quite still in the water right in front of us, we quickly realise: This isn’t a beaver. The tail is all wrong! We cycle on an come upon a whole family grazing on the canal bank at dusk who are quite unimpressed by our advances.
In the evening we search the internet and soon find out that the swimming rodents are nutrias. And that these relatives of the porcupine were first brought to Europe for their fur. Nutria originally come from South America, but have now spread over many parts of Europe: In the first part of the 20th century they either escaped from fur farms or were intentionally returned to the wild (only to be hunted for their fur). Today most nutria fur on the market comes from wildcaught animals in South America again.
In some places, nutrias are still reared or hunted for their meat. The State of Louisiana introduced and returned the animals into the wild as from 1930 for their fur. As a consequence, they now fight with what they call a nutria plague. The state has tried to promote eating nutria meet by launching a 2.1 million Dollar campaign in order to «eat away» the problem. The website of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries praises the alleged nutritional advantages of nutria meat and even provides recipes.
Nutrias are vegetarians as long as there are enough edible plants on offer, otherwise they might also eat some slugs, worms or freshwater mussels. Because nutrias are rarely hunted in Germany today, some of them are really quite trusting. Have a look for yourself at how little fear of contact they have – and how they best know themselves, what they like to eat 😉
>> Check out this fact sheet about the fur trade!