Monday, November 26, 2007

Beavers get busy in South America - Patagonian forests devastated by furry rodent’s depradations

IN NORTH American culture the beaver is as benign a rodent as ever was — an amiable blue-collar vegetarian with a penchant for erecting public works and a protagonist of children’s television shows.

But in southern Chile it’s wanted dead or alive.

Some 60 years after 50 were introduced into South America’s sub-Antarctic Patagonia region in a doomed effort to install a fur trade, the beaver population has exploded.

Today more than 50,000 roam freely in southern Patagonia, a region shared by Chile and Argentina, gnawing their way with abandon through virgin forests unaccustomed to tree-eating predators.

Chilean conservation officials are sounding the alarm as the beaver population spreads north, leaving miles of dead forest in its wake. The government is paying trappers by the pelt and has gone as far as encourage Patagonian restaurants to serve the foreign rodent on their menu.

They are also starting to consider more drastic measures, like widespread poisoning in some areas, to eradicate the beaver entirely.

The ramped-up efforts at the south end of the world are being driven in part by research by the University of Georgia, which recently published the first-ever study documenting the animal’s damaging effects on Chilean river wildlife.

The study’s findings have deep-ened concerns about the beaver’s threat and given more fuel to those who want its tail on a platter.

"The reason people are concerned is the landscape change," said Chris Anderson, a former UGA doctoral student who spearheaded the university’s research efforts in Chile. "If the beaver gets established on the mainland, there’s nothing to stop it from going all the way to Santiago (the capital)."

Here is the full article.