Italian mayor’s solution to rodent problem: Lets eat them


As Italy struggles to deal with burgeoning populations of an introduced giant rodent, 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.

But many escaped or were deliberately released after wearing fur fell out of fashion and the species is now thriving.

They have fared particularly well in the flatlands of the Po valley in northern Italy, where farmers complain that they devour crops and destroy levees and embankments by digging burrows.

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, launched on his Facebook page, has caused a lively social media debate, with some people in favour of the idea and others revolted by the prospect of tucking it what looks like a cross-between a beaver and a large rat.

“The debate about coypu has become bonkers, 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.”

However unpalatable the idea, he insisted that he was not joking and said there were regions of Italy that were already warming to the idea of tucking into roast, broiled or braised coypu.

“I’m totally serious. It’s true that there is a sense of revulsion towards the coypu but you just have to go into a pig farm to put it into context – everybody loves to eat prosciutto. We should at least start to discuss the idea.”

The mayor said he was speaking from practical experience, having eaten coypu meat. “It’s almost better than rabbit,” he said.

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 enamoured 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.

Coypu – which are also known as nutria – have adapted well to a range of different habitats in Italy.

They can even be seen in the middle of Rome, nibbling on sedges on the banks of the Tiber.

They breed prolifically, with a female capable of giving birth to up to a dozen young at a time.

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 range they are eaten by alligators, large snakes and eagles.

A lack of such predators in Europe has contributed to their rapid population growth.

They have also colonised part of the United States, with 18 states reporting significant coypu populations.

There, too, there is a debate over eating them. In Louisiana, where they have thrived in swamps and wetlands, the state’s wildlife and fisheries department suggests a range of recipes, from coypu fettucini and soup to coypu a l’orange.

A website with the tag line “Can’t Beat’em, Eat’em,” enthuses that the furry rodents are “among the healthiest of meats to consume”.