Most of our readers have never seen a nutria in real life, or even have a clue what one is. That’s OK — you aren’t missing too much if this describes you.
Nutrias are sizable swamp rats with big orange buck teeth poking out of their mouths. They’ve got thick fur and, in the wild, a quite nasty disposition, and they’re native to South America but have managed to intrude into the ecosystems of several places here in the States.
Particularly in Louisiana, where the rotund rodents have taken to munching away at marsh grass in the state’s deteriorating wetlands, something which is a tragic occurrence in the southern part of the state where the coastline is eroding at an alarming speed. Between the Mississippi River being leveed to its mouth by the Army Corps of Engineers a century ago, and, to a lesser extent, the carving of canals through the marsh to facilitate the oil and gas industry, the last thing Louisiana needed was an infestation of unwanted imports from Latin America gobbling away at the vegetation holding the marshland together.
So there are laws about nutria in Louisiana. Lots of them.
One of which is that you can’t keep a nutria as a pet, because it’s a “wild animal.”
Bear in mind, this is a swamp rat. It isn’t a lion or a grizzly bear or a velociraptor. Even though “wild” nutria are mean little SOBs, they aren’t exactly deadly predators.
And they’re actually pretty cuddly and cute under certain circumstances, as viewers of some of New Orleans’ local news broadcasts noted last week…
Neuty the Nutria might be the least wild animal in Louisiana, or anywhere else. The Lacoste family took him in when he was a tiny critter and, almost two and a half years later, he emerged as a local celebrity thanks to frequent TikTok videos and folks having a look at him while patronizing Dennis’ Seafood, the family’s restaurant.
But Neuty is also the refutation of the old line that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. In his case there absolutely is. Because no sooner did the local newspaper and TV stations run stories about him than the long arm of the law reached out to get him.
This was the scene on Thursday of last week, a day after the WWL-TV story you’ve seen above made the air…
The armed game-warden cops from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries were just following orders. Here’s the press release the agency put out defending their attempted arrest of the celebrated quadriped…
A family’s pet nutria is set to be removed from the home of a New Orleans couple and moved to the Baton Rouge Zoo to be part of an educational exhibit, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) announced Thursday.
It is illegal to have a wild animal as a pet, especially a nutria, which is an invasive species and could be a source of health issues.
LDWF discovered the existence of the pet nutria after stories about the animal appeared this week in New Orleans area media. Once the status was made public, the department recommended its removal. The department also started communications with the Baton Rouge Recreation and Park Commission which operates the Baton Rouge Zoo, to find a means of saving the animal.
BREC and Zoo officials agreed Thursday to accept the animal.
After those arrangements were completed, LDWF agents contacted the owners and told them that the animal will be removed and that arrangements have been made with the BR Zoo. In most cases, the animal would be placed back into the wild. However, LDWF biologists and Zoo officials said that because the animal has been habituated to humans, it would not be able to survive in the wild.
It is well known in Louisiana that nutria causes extensive damage to wetlands, agricultural crops, and structural foundations, including roads and dikes. They may also threaten human health and safety and serve as a reservoir for several diseases.
It is against the law in Louisiana to possess injured or orphaned mammals without an LDWF Rehabilitation permit, even if there is a plan to release them. It is illegal to possess wildlife as a pet or for the pet trade. There is no permit for this activity, and no permit will be issued for it.
In a statement issued Thursday, Zoo officials said it “plans to take in the nutria into our animal family after a short stint at a rehabilitation facility…The nutria will join our Ambassador Animal Program.
“The Zoo has another male nutria that’s already a part of the ambassador animal program, so the two will eventually be acclimated and brought together. As social animals, the nutria should be comfortably at ease and enjoy this exposure to another animal of the same species.
“The Zoo’s professional staff will care for the nutria as they would all other animals within their skilled care and looks forward to bringing a new member into the zoo animal family.”
LDWF appreciates the owner’s affection for the animal and their understanding of the rules regarding its removal. LDWF discourages the public from housing wild animals as pets.
The Lacostes’ son Dylan took Neuty on the lam, and it wasn’t until Friday before he was finally apprehended by the LDWF gumshoes.
By then, social media had exploded and the public had turned more than a little nasty toward the agency. And by Saturday, after a Change.org petition had gathered more than 20,000 signatures in little more than a day and the Lacostes had lawyered up, the sheepish state officials had brought him back to his home.
Is this a dumb little story which doesn’t belong in a national publication? Probably. It’s also an object lesson in why you want as little government as possible — something we can hopefully all agree upon regardless of ideology.
Yes, there’s a law which says you can’t keep a nutria as a pet in Louisiana. But such laws, in application, can quickly become absurd, and in such cases you need government officials with the capability of discernment to know when to send in the stormtroopers and when to abstain.
Because Neuty isn’t wild and he’s not a threat to the wetlands of the New Orleans suburbs. He’s the exact opposite of the policy reason for the law.
Nobody would care if the Lacostes had Neuty as their restaurant’s mascot. And as Henry David Thoreau said, “That government is best which governs least.” Wise leaders in charge of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries would have put a kibosh on their agents harassing regular citizens over which mammals they’d rescued from a roadway. But of course, until the public outcry backed them down, it’s clear that kind of leadership doesn’t exist.
The Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is a doddering septaugenarian former Democrat state legislator named Jack Montoucet, appointed to his position in 2018 by the current disastrous governor John Bel Edwards. Montoucet’s chief deputy is another former Edwards legislative ally, a self-styled Republican named Rob Shadoin. Both are regarded as jokes in state political circles, and it’s fairly obvious why in the aftermath of this fiasco.
Sure — we can talk about the January 6 prisoners or the impending Donald Trump arrest. But even if your politics prevents you from recognizing the abusive quality of that government overreach, surely you can see in this case an example of how important it is for regular folks, and even their buck-toothed buddies, to be left the hell alone.