Their chubby cheeks and whiskery faces give them a cute and appealing look, but Italy has declared war on the growing population of coypu, a beaver-like animal that has thrived since escaping from fur farms decades ago. Bearing a strong resemblance to the gopher in “Caddyshack,” 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. Farmers accuse the large rodents of wreaking havoc by digging their dens in river banks and levees, causing flooding that damage crops.
As Italy struggles to deal with a burgeoning populations of the coypu, which is known as castorino in Italy, a mayor has come up with a novel solution – eat them. Coypu were introduced to Italy a century ago from their native South America to be farmed for their fur. However, many have escaped or were deliberately released once wearing fur fell out of fashion. Now the species is thriving in Italy.
Michele Marchi, the Mayor of the town of Gerre de’ Caprioli, has suggested that numbers could be reduced if only Italians can develop a taste for coypu meat. He has tried it and says it tastes a bit like rabbit. His proposal has caused a lively social media debate, with some people in favor of the idea and others, not so much.
“The debate about coypu has become crazy, without coming to any resolution of the problem,” the 31-year-old Mayor wrote. “Here’s my idea – let’s start eating them in restaurants and at village food festivals.”
The Mayor said that there were regions of Italy that were already warming to the idea of roasting, broiling or braising the coypu. One enthusiastic backer of the idea wrote on social media: “Coypus are very clean animals and they are herbivores. I’ve tried them a few times. They should be cooked in a stew with onions or baked in the oven. I agree with the Mayor – it’s better than rabbit.”
Animal lovers were less enamored of the idea. “Here’s another genius who thinks he can resolve a problem by killing defenseless animals. And they elected him Mayor?” wrote one critic.
No one knows how many coypu there are living wild in Italy. 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. In their native habitat they are eaten by alligators, large snakes and eagles. A lack of such predators in Europe has contributed to their rapid population growth.