Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Wednesday 22 November 2017

'Coypu rodents may be cute - but the damage they do can be deadly'

A coypu in the wild
A coypu in the wild
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

Last week's call-out to the public to report sightings of the metre-long rodent-like coypu - after one was spotted in Cork - was a refreshingly frank act at a time when politically correct procrastination is so common.

The coypu is a native of South America and it's believed that they escaped into the wild, having been brought to Ireland as an attraction on a pet farm.

The National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) has trapped 10 coypus in the Cork area in the past two years while one was previously found swimming in a Tipperary river.

NPWS conservation ranger Danny O'Keeffe says the coypu can cause "a lot of damage". Their burrowing can cause extensive harm to river banks and flood defences. They also destroy root crops and eat bird eggs.

The NPWS is acting to prevent the problem become a major one.

There was no talk about captured animals being rehomed; they are going to be euthanased.

This triggered a now-common emotional and uninformed response on social media along the lines of 'how could eating a few roots be harmful to the environment?' and that no one should grass on such adorable little creatures.

The NPWS is obviously anxious to avoid a repeat of the scenario in Britain, where the coypu was introduced in 1929 to be farmed for their fur.

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Having subsequently made their way into wild, total eradication took 11 years of concerted effort costing millions.

A cute breeding couple can quickly produce a damaging population.

A chilling example of the environmental damage caused by a foreign species is the cane toad in Australia, the subject of a recently shown TV documentary.

The cane toad was brought in from Hawaii in the 1930s in an attempt to biologically control the native grey-backed cane beetle, which damages sugar cane crops, a major enterprise in northwest Australia.

The cane toads bred rapidly and now number over 200 million.

They have had a variety of long-term damaging effects on the environment.

Cane toads' skin is toxic. This has led to the depletion of native species that tried to eat them, while pets and even humans have been poisoned.

They have a voracious appetite. So native fauna that they prey on have been depleted and they have reduced prey populations for native insectivores. They also spread disease.

It turns out that the cane toads haven't even done the job they were brought in to do, as cane beetle populations are unchanged!

Conservation doesn't mean leaving things to their own devices. Intervention is often required.

So, if you see a coypu, contact Danny O'Keeffe on 087 247 2264 or email danny.okeeffe@ahg.gov.ie.

This is National Biodiversity Week, with over 50 events (most free) across the country. One that caught my eye is an urban beekeepers' workshop in Mount Merrion Community Centre tomorrow afternoon.

There will be a great buzz in this locality on Thursday when President Michael D. Higgins is the guest of honour at an event in Abbeyleix to highlight society's dependence on the natural environment for our food, health and wealth.

The President, an avid supporter of conservation, will also visit Abbeyleix Bog, a fine example of a landscape being restored through active management.


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