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transmission of disease to grazing animals; destruction of crops (Davis 1963; Laurie
1946). Animal biologists and Ministry of Agriculture pest control officers produce
scientific studies of the coypu population, detailing the possible methods of trapping
and control, but even where the latter is outlined in the manner of a military
campaign, with details of the 'Plan of Campaign' and 'Operations' (Norris 1967),
the argument has seldom been made that the coypu should be destroyed because it
is alien. In a New Scientist article by Regional Pests Officer J.D.Norris, a photograph
is captioned 'an alien rodent from South America', but Norris does not develop the
theme in his text (Norris 1963). Alienness is recognised in the coypu, but it is not
held against the animal as an inherently negative characteristic.
In an essay on the coypu in the journal Agriculture in 1956, R.A.Davis of the
Ministry of Agriculture wrote of the rabbit, grey squirrel, mongoose and muskrat
that '[t]he introduction of any new species into an environment not its own may be
dangerous', but he concluded that the coypu 'forms an interesting addition to our
fauna' and 'need not cause “alarm and despondency”'. Davis concluded here that
the coypu should not be 'proscribed as a pest' (Davis 1956:127, 129, 127), but later
would change his view: 'By 1957 it had become apparent that the feral coypus were
not an unmixed blessing' (Davis 1963:346). It is the classification of the coypu as a
crop-damaging pest, rather than its status as an alien, that is the key issue in the
instigation of a systematic anti-coypu campaign. Norris recorded that Ministry
posters appeared in police stations and post offices across East Anglia asking people
to report sightings, and presented the animal as a quiet, even sly creature demanding
vigilance: 'Coypus are largely creatures of the twilight, and, moving about singly or
in small numbers, leave few signs behind. It therefore requires a considerable
alertness to spot the first colonists' (Norris 1963:626). The coypu may be being
othered here as a crafty twilight creature which might creep up to colonise a new
environment, but the striking thing about such discourse is how its South American
origins are not given prominence. It would be easy for such writing to play on fears
of the foreign, particularly in a period when that argument was being made in
human cultural politics, but the native/alien polarity which has come to the fore in
more recent ecological conservationist discussion (Agyeman and Spooner 1997) did
not drive this campaign. It might also be argued that earlier local trapping of coypus
for fur was not in itself an anti-coypu action in terms of antipathy to the species as a
whole. It would seem, paradoxically, that it was the collapse of the fur market,
reducing the incentive for trapping and thereby allowing numbers to increase, which
generated the conditions for a state-sponsored eradication campaign. Commentators
such as Davis noted a very different coypu story in countries such as the USSR,
where coypus were deliberately released into the wild and regularly culled as a source
of fur through live trapping (Davis 1963:347).
We can further explore the cultural ecology of the coypu by considering those
who, in various ways, positively welcomed the animal. In their review of coypu
policy, Gosling and Baker (1989) suggest that the coypu escaped systematic culling
for twenty-five years due to a lack of knowledge of its destructive potential, and a belief
that numbers could be easily kept down. One should also though attend to a
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