Concern over spread of rat-like coypu after Cork sightings

Public urged to contact authorities if they see rodent which can ‘decimate’ crops

The coypu is native to South America but has spread throughout North America and into Europe and has now arrived in Ireland. Photograph: Getty Images

The coypu is native to South America but has spread throughout North America and into Europe and has now arrived in Ireland. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Members of the public have been urged to report sightings of rat-like creatures, known as coypus, which the National Parks and Wildlife Service fear could cause extensive damage to river banks and other habitats.

The coypu is native to South America but has spread throughout North America and into Europe and has now arrived in Ireland with numerous sightings of the animal – which can be up to one metre long from nose to tail – around Cork city and county.

According to NPWS conservation ranger Danny O’Keeffe it is believed that the animal was introduced as a novelty attraction to a pet farm in Cork but that some animals escaped in 2014 and began breeding on the outskirts of Cork city.

Mr O’Keeffe said there have reportedly been sightings of coypus around the Curraheen River, on the River Lee, at the Atlantic Pond down the Marina, in Douglas, Mallow and Cobh as well as in Tipperary, Offaly and Dublin.

“It looks a bit like an otter except it has a rat like tail and it has two orange or yellow teeth – it tends to eat mainly vegetation but it also eats birds eggs but it can decimate crops like sugar beet, carrots and turnips so we are very concerned about its spread,” he said.

“It also burrows into river banks so it can damage earthen flood defences and the animal becomes sexually mature at just three months so if an animal has six or seven pups with a few females, they can start to breed pretty quickly so the population can grow rapidly.”

Mr O’Keeffe said that so far the NPWS has eradicated 11 animals mainly around the Curraheen River but the coypu which travels mainly by water ways has the potential to spread across the countryside as happened in East Anglia which necessitated a major eradication programme.

Mr O’Keeffe said people might see them swimming in rivers, or scurrying around river banks like an otter and he urged anyone who comes across a coypu – or even what they think is a coypu – to contact the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

“If someone sees a coypu, it’s fine if they want to get a photo. The main thing to let us know is the location, date and time and the more recorded sightings we get, we can bait an area and set traps to catch them because they can cause huge damage,” he said.

Any sightings can be recorded by email to danny.okeeffe@ahg.gov.ie.