When you think of furry animals in Rome, most tourists think cats. After all, there is a much-visited cat sanctuary downtown.
But cats aren’t the only wild animals you can see if you keep your eyes open. There are also nutria, animals I had never heard of before last week. Had you?
We were in Rome, and my son was telling me about them. Apparently a classmate had mistaken one for a beaver. I guess he didn’t know what a beaver looks like.
Nutria, my son tells me, are found in Rome’s Tiber River – but they aren’t native to Italy. They were imported from South America, to be part of a new Italian fur industry. I gather the nutria thrived while the furriers did not.
Basically the animals are giant water rats. My son didn’t think they were that common (maybe they are mostly nocturnal like other rats), but right after he said that we saw three of them.
I suspect that these days, environmental regulations would prohibit an experiment such as was tried with the nutria. We think of the entire ecosystem and are worried about maintaining balance. They could have just imported the fur from South America, but that wouldn’t have been as profitable. In theory anyway.
To me these rats don’t look at all like beaver. It isn’t just the tail; the face is different too.
They do seem to have adapted quite nicely to Rome and the Tiber. It’s pretty polluted though – I doubt they are tasty.
Romans should be thankful they have nutria. If beavers had been imported instead, there might not be many trees left in Rome.