These large rodents have become quite a tourist attraction. They were introduced to Europe in the XIX century from South America to provide cheap fur coats. The European stock is all derived from individuals escaped from fur farms, or sprung by animal rights activists.
Their official name in Europe is coypu, the name given to them back home in the Amazonian jungle, but they are also known as nutria in the fur trade. I don’t like to think of them as nutria, it’s rather like referring to a cow as a steak, a pig as a chop, or a horse as lasagne if you want to push the analogy into the realms of really bad taste (no pun intended).
Whatever their name, coypu or nutria they have become pests. They have no natural predators once they reach the adult size, and they are quite fearless. Having got close to one of the things once I can understand why Finbar won’t even look at them. They grow quite big, up to 20lb, with huge feet and the most revolting orange incisors. I have heard of dogs dying after being bitten by a coypu.
The only thing that keeps their numbers down is the cold. Unlike beavers they are tropical animals and can’t stand it, suffering terribly from frostbite, especially their tails. Unfortunately for the Garonne our region is below their climatic limit, and as this winter was particularly mild they have taken no harm from it at all. They have spent the long winter nights reproducing like rabbits, and merrily undermining the river bank.
There is always a small crowd of admirers gathered at this particular part of the river front, either feeding the devils or cooing at them. Baby coypu, like all baby animals are sweet little things, but their grandfathers are not so lovable.
There seems a sort of irony in the fact that the restaurant opposite the place where the coypu adulation society congregates feeds them on potatoes and stale bread. The same people who coo and awww at the rodents will quite happily go into the restaurant and tuck into a nice fat steak.
True, there is a restaurant further up the river that serves coypu under the name of marsh beaver. Wonder if they know?