All About Animals: STORY 8. “The Lucky Coypu”, by Rob Bullock

Does anybody know what a coypu is? If you saw one, you might well think he or she was a small beaver. Well, they do look a lot like beavers. But do you know that they live here in Europe?

Coypus are originally from South America, but years ago, they were brought to Europe because people wanted to wear their fur. They kept them on special fur farms, where they were killed and skinned for the fashion industry. But like other animals who are bred for their fur, some escaped from the farms and started living wild in the countryside.

Coypus thrive especially well in marshy and wet types of countryside. They really love the Norfolk Broads area of England and the Marais Poitevin area in western France. These are areas with human-made canals that criss-cross the countryside and farm land. Coypus can easily swim up the canals and make tunnels under fields and plantations.

The thing is, the escaped coypus loved being in Europe so much that they started having lots of babies, and their babies had lots of babies, and before you knew it, there were an awful lot of coypus digging tunnels all over the countryside. Farmers claimed that they were undermining their fields and stopping their crops from growing properly. So now the governments in Europe give trappers money for each coypu they kill.

Coypus are normally nocturnal – they sleep during the day. When we lived in southwest France, we saw a coypu one day. It had been caught by a trapper. We wondered what the man was doing, and when we asked him, he showed us what he’d caught. The poor coypu was about the size of a Jack Russell dog, with beautiful thick fur. He had tiny legs and a long, thin tail.

The little frightened coypu had bashed his nose badly trying to escape from the cage, and there was a lot of blood all over him. We asked what would happen to him next, and the trapper said he was going to shoot him. We begged the man not to, and after a while, he said he would give us the animal if we promised to release him well away from his land. We agreed, and after being warned not to put our fingers near the coypu (he was so frightened he could have easily bitten our fingers off!), we put the animal in our car with a tasty snack of an apple and some watercress and drove to a secluded spot a few miles away, where we released him into a nice stream.

But it’s not the coypus’ fault that they like Europe so much. They have just adapted brilliantly to their surroundings. Some trappers don’t kill the coypus quickly with guns, and the little creatures die slowly and painfully.

In the Norfolk Broads, they have killed almost all the coypus, and nobody has even heard of them, let alone heard of their cull. But coypus are beautiful, peaceful animals who love nothing better than to be left alone to swim up and down streams and make nests in river banks. If you’re lucky enough to see one, you’ll see they do look like beavers. But they’re not beavers – they’re coypus!

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