Tierra del Fuego: The Site of One of Man's Greatest Failures

In an attempt to alleviate the struggle of having to consume more astrophysics papers - which make for an awful diet, I might add - I've been studying about a creature whose industriousness and work ethic far outstrips mine: the beaver. Much like Maciej, I am also highly untrusting of the beaver: its obsession with building dams and lodges is far beyond anything that nature intended, plus it will perpetually wear an innocent-looking stranger-in-a-strange-land expression in order to hide its true intentions.

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(from page 171 of The Countries of the World)

It was to my curiosity when I stumbled on what Nature calls "the largest eradication project ever attempted": the beaver eradication in Tierra del Fuego. The various sub-communities on the internet are quick to recall how the Australians lost a fight with the flightless emu, but somehow beavers escape the recollection of the internet.

Tierra del Fuego is a beautiful island at the southern tip of Argentina, translated to "Land of Fire" from Spanish. Apparently the Spaniards had a sense of humor, as this province is the closest Argentina gets to the frigid climate of Antarctica. In 1946, in an attempt to boost the local fur trading industry, the Argentinian government imported fifty beavers from Canada, a move now widely regarded as a mistake. Like most government projects, the effects of this project was not considered wholly. BBC interviewed someone who believed that the Argentinian government should have imported bears, although he conspicuously left out how it would be possible to transport a number of bears from Canada to Argentina without the magic of air travel. Unfortunately, this vacuum of natural predators for the beaver resulted in the local population ballooning beyond expectations, NPR suggests that over 200,000 beavers were living in the area. Even worse, more clever members of this population have figured how inter-island travel, quickly spreading into the Brunswick Peninsula of Chile, while simultaneously threatening to come aboard mainland South America.

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(from page 91 of St. Nicholas)

The issue with the beavers is a fundamental one: South American flora grow slowly and South American trees evolved far less tenacity than their North American cousins, having never dealt with front teeth gnawing on their trunks results in them simply dying once they collapse, unable to restore themselves from their roots alone. The beaver's engineering skill also makes them a formidable foe in this region as well, dam construction results in stagnant bogs and disturbs ecological migration patterns, and eventually contributing to a negative feedback loop of invasive species.

In response to the beaver pandemic, the Argentinian and Chilean governments have encouraged trapping and containment of the monstrous little rodents. Unfortunately, these efforts are slow going, because a near total eradication is needed for the beavers. Like its very distant cousin the rabbit, beavers are quick to breed, meaning a small family of beavers could repopulate the area. Even worse, beaver meat is tough and dark-colored, making the rodent unappetizing in nature and hard to cook, especially in a land with fantastic steaks. Their naturally evolved mechanisms to prevent being put on a plate, combined with their work ethic and incredibly durable teeth leads makes the less very clear: beavers are destructive little rodents, and we should steer clear of beaver immigration any time soon.

Posted: 2016-09-04
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