For Guilt-Free Fur, Wear a Coat Made From an Invasive Water Rat

By Eliza Strickland | January 25, 2010 3:02 pm

nutriaBy Anna Rothschild

At a time when wearing fur is generally considered a fashion faux pas, designers like Oscar de le Renta and Billy Reid are taking a big fashion risk. They are selling pelts from an unusual source: the nutria.

Ever heard of the nutria? It’s a nocturnal, semi-aquatic rodent that weighs around 12 pounds. It has the body of a beaver, the tail of a rat, the feet of a duck, and it wears its nipples on the sides of its body rather than on its belly. It is also destroying Louisiana’s wetlands.

In the 1930s, Louisiana fur farms imported these animals from Argentina for their supple pelts. Unfortunately, some nutria got loose and made Louisiana’s marshes their new home. As the demand for nutria fur diminished in the 1980s, these animals went from posh fashion statement to ecological pest.

Today, nutria have destroyed tens of thousands of acres of wetlands in Louisiana by feeding on marsh vegetation. Nutria graze on the roots of plants, making it difficult for this vegetation to regenerate. When a marsh’s natural flora is destroyed, the soil underneath gets swept away by the tide, and the marsh becomes open water.

Over the years, the government of Louisiana has gone to great lengths to curb the nutria problem. It has even invented a number of nutria-based recipes, encouraging citizens to make nutria a delicious part of their daily diets.

Members of Louisiana’s Coastwide Nutria Control Program already kill thousands of nutria a year, letting their pelts go to waste. But now, designers and activists alike are attempting to hype the nutria as an eco-friendly source of fur. One group, known as Righteous Fur, is promoting the use of nutria in fashion and even held a nutria fur design competition on January 8th.

So if you love the feel of fur on your skin, but don’t want to be burdened with guilt, consider the nutria. That is, if you don’t mind wearing a water rat.

This article is provided by Scienceline, a project of New York University’s Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program.

Image: flickr / amboo who?

  • SS

    It’s still fur, and it’s still sick. We aren’t barbarians any more, why do people want to look like one, and glory in death?

  • Nutria Piñata

    Re: SS Says:

    Because death is glory, barbarians are cool, and

    fur

    feels

    phenomenal.

  • Kirk

    Yo –SS We could just shoot and club the damn things and leave them where they lay but that would be wasteful.

    You should see the herds of nutria galloping across the wetlands of Louisiana…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxCL1EYyqrI

    UUUUMMMM, nutria [drool]
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuXEaNdwrSs&feature=related

  • Ljubica

    APPLAUDS. It is not sick to wear the fur of an animal that you have eaten. It is called reducing waste. Now if we could all just try to purchase naturally derived goods instead of synthetic, we’d be doing the Earth a huge favour!

  • Sam Burress

    I just made some Heart Healthy ‘Crock-Pot’ Nutria for dinner yesterday, it was delectable. Better to double the garlic though, 2 teaspoons doesn’t quite cut it.

  • Greg

    I don’t see how many wildlife activists will object. We humans consciously imported the animal and it got loose and began destroying the ecosystem. It stands to reason we have a duty to rectify the situation. This is no different than regulation on what plant you allowed to plant. If a plant that is a hazard to the environment is grown, it will be destroyed. I understand the unintentional importing of species as a part of nature, but conscious action is a completely separate issue.

    Plus have you seen a nutria rat? That picture they post makes it seem far too cute.

  • I heart Han

    Could my dream of owning an affordable life sized Wookie suit finally be realized?

  • Louie Gedo

    This article represents a disturbing level of ignorance, indifference, and hatred. If the bizarre logic used by Rothschild (that it’s morally responsible behavior to kill and destroy a species who wrecks serious havoc on the environment) were to be applied with intellectual consistently, the author would have to be in complete support of the extermination of the majority of modern humans whose civilization sprawl and commercial activity have done far, far, far, more damage to local and regional ecosystems.

  • K

    It’s interesting to watch the conflict of various interest collide. There’s this problem of an introduced, invasive species, and the question is “how can we control them?” I guess we care about this issue because the nutria is probably doing something like destroying habitats which probably support endangered or vulnerable native species. So it’s sort of like an inside vs outside group thing. Do we protect the native wildlife here? Do we protect the invasive species? Which one is more important to us and why? Depending on who you are, you might answer that question differently. Some disagree with using any animal product. (I still feel like it’s cheating if they eat or use products from fungi, since they’re closer to animals than plants, but I guess if it’s not “cute” it’s not important for most people.)

    I have no objections, though. I think it would be very nice to have winter gear or bedding made out of fur. Some people might consider that barbaric, but I think that’s kind of ironic. It seems like doing that allowed people to span out to colder climates. The animals helped us a lot. Even though humans seem to have made a lot of progress, we really wouldn’t be anywhere without the support of our environment. That includes everything from the rocks and minerals we build our houses and things with to the plants and animals that we eat. I feel like it’s arrogant to think that science can get us out of any mess without considering the earth and the various circumstances we all live in.

  • F.E.

    While this seems to generate a lot of heat on the topic.

    I agree with not being wasteful, yet that would mean hunting the animal for food as well. The Nutria might be more nutricious (and safer in processing) than cow.? Either way, who are we to judge the course of evolution for any given species (Sentient or rodent? Symbiotic or Parasite?). We may well become the next species to be exterminated because we’re ‘in the way’ or even better ‘ we’re screwing up’.

    Please hold your tongue’s and think…before making silly remarks that have no scientific nor rational basis.

  • Ricardo

    Maybe De La Renta and Billy Reid could be of more help to humanity setting the trend of wearing coats etc. made with another skin: human, a species more harmful and mischievious than nutria. Though, on second thought, some exotic stuff has been offered in European extermination camps during WWII, such as lamp shades made with human skin decorated with the number of the previous owner.

  • Nat

    “That is, if you don’t mind wearing a water rat” : None of the folks wearing very expensive muskrat furs seem to have any objection. Muskrat is also a water rat, and its fur is highly prized.

    And yes, nutria are destructive. They destroy wetlands completely by eating the roots of the trees and vegetation that anchor the wetlands. No anchor vegetation, no wetlands. Think of it as the marshland equivalent of clear-cutting.

  • Chloe

    You’re wearing a sewer round your neck

  • Jenni

    Just let your armpit hair grow, itll do the job !

  • Chadrick

    Gedo, do I really have to explain the difference between rats and humans? Yes, humans have been and still are very destructive to the enviroment, but many people have become eco-aware, and work to correct mistakes; like the mistake of bringing nutria to Louisiana. How many nutria do you see concerned about the destruction they’ve caused? And it’s not like they’re gonna go existinct anytime soon, were as the marshland creatures whose habitats they are destroying may. They’re is nothing ignorant about it. What’s ignorant is trying to apply logic aimed at unintelligent, totally-destructive rodents, to syntient, human being many of whom are trying to save the enviroment.

  • PoBoy

    It’s not just about prefering native species to invasive ones. The issue down here is not one of habitat quality. When has Louisiana ever cared about that? The issue is of the very existence of the habitat. Nutria are destroying Louisiana’s coast. I have some mixed feelings about humans programmatically destroying nutria, but frankly the marsh ain’t big enough for the two of us.

  • ecofreak

    I think this is a brilliant idea. invasive species could potentially cloth and feed us. Humans continue to ruin ecosystems by thoughtlessly introducing animals for pets, animals that could be a solution for solving pests, or because of industry. Why wouldn’t we look at this as a viable source for many things? How is it that invasive species should be able to live over the native ones who are driven to extinction? We should also look to the possum, rabbit, and fox problems in New Zealand and Australia. Why aren’t we feeding the thousands of hungry mouths with this plentiful problem? I’m all for it!

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