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Argentina eager to rid island of Beavers

July 9, 1999
By Correspondent Gary Strieker


TIERRA DEL FUEGO, Argentina (CNN) -- A stealthy invader from the north is wiping out large areas of native forest on Tierra del Fuego, an island at the southern tip of South America.

The invader, the North American beaver, has proliferated from only a few pairs 50 years ago to at least 100,000 today.

The Argentinean government imported the original beavers to raise on commercial fur farms. When the project failed, the beavers were released. They quickly spread across the island.

They have since chewed their way through river valleys and stream beds, felling the trees they need for food and building dams, which create even greater damage.

What happens when the beavers take over an area like this, they raise the water level, the roots in the trees rot, and the tree dies, said Marcela Uhart of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The population explosion has taken place because the beavers have no natural predators in this new environment.

They belong in another habitat. Their native habitat is not this, Uhart said. So there needs to be some kind of control here. They have no native species to control them.

Wildlife experts say the beaver population on the island would eventually be limited by available resources. But until then beavers would continue to spread, taking down countless trees in their path.

Gustavo Matteazzi, an animal control official with the Argentinean government, hopes to control the beaver population by supplying hundreds of traps to people like Estaban Rivero.

The rancher says he takes more than 1,000 beavers every year using the traps, which kill the animals swiftly and humanely.

If the government gives him more traps and some financing, he says he can take more than 10 times as many beavers.

Rivero can produce high quality furs, but currently the international price is depressed because of economic troubles in major markets like Russia and Korea.

If prices recover, and beaver trappers can make a profit, it may still be possible to control the invasion of beavers on this island.

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