Argentina and Chile Decide Not to Leave It to Beavers [Slide Show]
Importing the incisor-toothed hydrologists from Canada to the southernmost tip of South America seemed like a good idea in 1946, but it wasn’t
LUNCHING ON LENGA: A descendent of the original 20 beavers transplanted from North America to Patagonia in 1946 chews on a lenga branch. Those descendents now number in the tens of thousands.
ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEERS: Beavers build their lodges in ponds to protect themselves from predators, which on Tierra del Fuego are absent. This scenario has allowed their populations to explode.
WATERY WASTELAND: Even trees that escape beaver teeth often wind up dead, because the three endemic tree species that comprise Fuegian forests are not adapted to the floods that result when beavers build their dams to create a pond.
Invasive North American beavers now live in every watershed in Tierra del Fuego, and have spread to several other islands as well as the South American mainland. In Tierra del Fuego it is estimated that 50 percent of forested riparian areas are damaged by the beavers, creating the largest landscape-level alteration of those areas in the last 10,000 years. Advertisement
STEPPING INTO THE STEPPE:
Beavers are even finding ways to survive in unforested areas, building dams in drainage ditches using dirt, grass and shrubs. Ecologists worry they could spread across the vast Argentine pampa.
CONTROLLING THE INVASION:
Wild animal specialist José Luis Cabello Cabalin holds a beaver he trapped. The Chilean and Argentine governments hope to eradicate the beavers in coming years and reforest damaged areas. Courtesy of José Luis Cabello Cabalin
Hundreds of locals were trained to trap beavers as part of bounty programs funded by the government. A handful still participate in the fur trade, including trapper Custodio Millán.
A FUEGIAN ESTABLISHMENT:
Meanwhile, beavers have become part of the local culture, appearing in guided wildlife tours and occasionally on restaurant menus. Castor Cook is a fast-food restaurant in Ushuaia, Argentina.
A.E.J. Valenzuela Advertisement Advertisement