Coypu: They’re cute and furry, but Italy declares war on growing population of beaver-like animals
Their chubby cheeks and whiskery faces lend them an appealing look, but Italy has declared war on its growing population of coypu, beaver-like animals that have thrived since escaping from fur farms decades ago.
Farmers accuse the large rodents of wreaking havoc by digging their dens in river banks and levees, causing flooding that damages crops.
The creatures are a particular problem in the rice paddy fields of the Po Valley in northern Italy, burrowing into banks and compromising water channels.
They have adapted well to a range of different habitats and can often be seen in the middle of Rome, nibbling on sedges on the banks of the Tiber.
They breed like crazy, with a female capable of giving birth to up to a dozen young at a time.
Regions across the country are rolling out eradication programmes, encouraging hunters to shoot the animals and recruiting volunteers to set traps.
Lombardy, which includes Milan, has committed 200,000 euros to the campaign against the coypu this year, while neighbouring Veneto, which includes Venice, has set aside 100,000 euros.
No one knows how many coypu there are living wild in Italy.
But in the region of Emilia-Romagna alone there are believed to be around one million, while Lombardy has a population of around 1.3 million, with the regional government calling for 300,000 to be culled each year.
“The animal’s habit of digging tunnels and dens compromises dams and embankments as well as irrigation channels,” the Veneto regional government warned in a new management plan.
They are also voracious eaters of crops. “The coypu is a glutton for maize,” Martino Cerantola, the president of the Veneto branch of Coldiretti, a farmers’ association, told La Stampa newspaper.
The funds will be used to buy metal traps and to reimburse hunters and farmers for the shotgun cartridges and rifle bullets they use.
Coypu, also known as nutria, are native to South America, where they are eaten by alligators, large snakes and eagles.
A lack of such predators in Europe has contributed to their rapid population growth.
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They were introduced to Italy in fur farms in the 1920s, but many were released during the Depression, when the demand for fur crashed.