To prove that it’s not all doom and glum when I discuss invasives, this month I’ve chosen Coypu– primarily as an example of how an invasive pest can be successful eradicated. So long as they annoy the right (or wrong?) people.
Coypu are large rodents (you can read a bit more about their morphology etc. on wikipedia, I can’t really be bothered to write that bit). They look pretty cool, but not as cool as the Capybara, if I were going to rank large rodents. Which I’m not. But if I were…
Farmed in the early part of the 20th century for its fur, it inevitably escaped from some rather lax security on East Anglian fur farms. It proved to be pretty destructive and damage and loss of reed beds started to occur around the Broads. There was certainly the potential that this could detrimentally impact on breeding bird species. However, this isn’t what ultimately sealed their fate; the Coypu unfortunately made the fatal era of impinging on farming concerns through its burrowing and disturbing of irrigation channels.
The Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food as it then was, acted with uncharacteristic alacrity and a population estimated at around 50,000 at its peak was eradicated in the space of 20 years. There are rumours that they still persist in some areas, though – we do love a mystery animal in this country.
So what lessons does this have for us today? Does this have absolutely any relevance or impact to a current invasive?
Well, an obvious comparison is the American Mink, an incredibly damaging species for native wildlife, in particular Water Voles, which the Mink are able to predate with ease. They also escaped from fur farms during the same time period, and exist in much lower numbers than the coypu reached. So eradication should be simple, yes? But the only effort being put into their eradication mainly comes from wildlife charities. It’s no stretch at all to suggest that if they were even rumoured to be a serious threat to cattle as Bovine TB vectors, they’d be gone within a year.
From my own experience chasing wallabies (yes, wallabies again), I know that though the ecological ramifications of their presence on a Ramsar wetland site were important, the impact on local farming concerns perhaps held greater sway. Unfortunately said farmers refused to let me survey their land, and therefore this angle was not really covered and the Wallabies were therefore never in danger. Shame that.
The lesson for any potential invasive species must be – eat or out-compete the native wildlife as much as you like, but for heavens sake don’t touch the crops.
So, yeah, wouldn’t you look at that? I managed to be glum about it after all.