The United States is burdened with a number of non-native, and once domestic, plunderers and predators that are having a devastating effect on our environment: the Burmese Python, the Coypu or Nutria, and Feral Pigs, to name only three.
The Burmese python, native to South and Southeast Asia, is happily multiplying in the Florida Everglades. They are really difficult to find and hard to hunt. Since 2002, native deer, bobcats, possum, and other swamp dwellers have declined drastically. This loss not only affects these species but also the native alligators who now have to share their food sources with the pythons.
The Coypu, or Nutria, originally from South America, was introduced to the United States primarily by fur ranchers. They are known as ‘swamp rats’ and they breed extremely fast, having large litters. When the fur trade came to an end in the 1930s nutria were released into the wild where they proceeded to multiply rapidly. They dig on the banks of rivers uprooting plants and causing erosion, destroying the native habitat. This is affecting small native mammals like muskrats as well as shallow-water species and young fish. Efforts are being made to eradicate them from Maryland and Delaware but there is, according to Federal wildlife officials, no chance of freeing Louisiana from these pests.
Feral pigs are a growing problem throughout the United States. While not strictly a foreign predator, a sounder, or group, of pigs can damage large tracts of agricultural and wild land in just a few nights as they forage under the ground with their snouts and tusks. They are dangerous and fearless and don’t hesitate to charge. Feral pigs carry brucellosis, a bacterial disease transferable to humans, and pseudorabies, also known as “mad itch,” which is transferable to dogs. The fact that they eat turtle, turkey and quail eggs, puts these species in danger to say nothing of future forestation damaged by their appetite for chestnuts and acorns. Over a billion dollars in damage is caused by feral pigs each year.
But we are not the only country with this problem. New Zealand is plagued by introduced predators. Predator Free New Zealand 2050 is an ambitious project launched by the New Zealand government to try to completely eradicate these pests.
Ship rats threaten the survival of many native New Zealand species and pose a health threat to humans.
Possums, originally introduced from Australia, are decimating forest canopies and competing with native birds for food. They also spread bovine tuberculosis to cattle and deer and harm commercial forestry and horticulture.
Mustelids (stoats, ferrets, and weasels) were introduced to manage rabbit plagues. However, they have caused the extinction of several New Zealand bird species and contribute to the decline of other species, including young kiwi, the national bird of New Zealand.
New Zealand’s affected areas are certainly less in area than those of the United States but we are sure this NZ$28million project will be watched by wildlife officials all over the world.