(Not for the squeamish.)
It was time for the evening routine: taking veggie scraps out to the compost, putting in the ducks for the night, and bringing our indoor/outdoor cat, Mittens, inside. The compost pile is past the seasonal pond about twenty yards. I like our pond, even though it dries up for the summer just about the time the tadpoles turn into frogs. I spent a lot of my youth exploring such bodies of water with my brother, catching said frogs and tadpoles, and if the pond had any fish whatsoever in it, we had our fishing lines in the water. Our little temporary duck washing station takes me back to a simpler time. It is a small respite.
That calm was disrupted this evening. A nutria was at the water’s edge, cleaning itself. For those of you unfamiliar with these massive, aquatic rodents, see http://www.clr.pdx.edu/projects/ans/nutria.php. For those of you who live in warm and temperate climates, you may already know what a huge pest these animals can be to dams, levees and riparian areas. Raised in Oregon for the fur trade in the 1930s and 1940s, nutria escaped, and when the bottom fell out of that fur market, some ranchers set their stock free. Oregon is now infested with these things, and farmers, as well as Department of Natural Resources folks, are very intolerant of these sometimes aggressive, over-sized rats.
I stealthed my way back to the house. The shotgun had but one shell in it, and when I tried to chamber more, it jammed. I went back to get the .22 rifle. All of this commotion raised the curiosity of the Dear Wife.
“What’s going on?”
“There’s a nutria out by the pond.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to kill it.”
“I want to go!”
DW has come a long way from her city days. While she has a heart of gold and extends her empathy to every dump-job feral cat within a half mile of our property, having been in on conversations with other farmers, she knows that nutria are not welcome. But even I was a bit surprised by her excitement to be part of the hunt.
By the time we got back to the pond, the nutria was in the water. It saw us coming and headed for our dam. Had it already built a den? No, I believed it was trying to make a getaway to the culvert, so I positioned myself to block its path.
DW still hadn’t gotten a good look at the thing as I motioned her to stay back, and after all, she has a healthy reserve when it comes to guns. It was still in the water after it was dead. DW asked, “What are you going to do with it? An art project? You want to put it on ice?” DW has always encouraged my creative side.
“No, it’ll go in the compost.” (So yes, maybe I’d be using for art after all, for I think of my compost piles as sculpture.)
We fetched a rake to drag it out of the water, I grabbed it by the tail and hauled it ashore. DW was awed.
“It’s huge! It’s bigger than Mittens!”
Nutria typically grow to about 24-inches in length from nose to tail. This one was about 28-inches long. It must be a male… no, a female. She weighed about sixteen pounds.
“Are you going to take a picture of it?” I hadn’t really thought about it. I had done our State and fellow farmers a favor and I was content with that alone. But, hell, I knew my readers would want to see the thing, especially in light of the discussion about spiders. So, here you go:
Note the orange teeth. These can do some serious damage to pets and trees alike.
I did a little reading on nutria when I came in for the night. It seems that they are not solitary animals, living in groups of two to sixteen animals, with a male to every two or three females. Although this one didn’t show evidence of nursing young, they breed up to three times a year. And, they rarely wander farther than 600 feet from their den.
I guess we will have to keep an eye out.