Nutria Fur is Pitched As Environmentally Friendly
Swamp Rats Are Still Animals
Published: Friday, November 19, 2010
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 19:11
Nutria are more commonly known as swamp rats; until recently, they were valued only for their absence from homes and backyards. Fashion designer Micha Michelle Melancon has tapped the growing number of nutria in Louisiana swamps, and she has thus created with their pelts what many consider to be a more socially-acceptable and environmentally-friendly fur.
Typically only viewed as pets, nutria are actually native animals of South America; they were shipped North centuries ago in order to feed the American consumers' demand for fur. They only gained their status as pests, and thus their noble distinction of "swamp rats," when they escaped into the Louisiana swamps and began to feed and breed independently.
The state of Louisiana now pays trappers and small-game hunters $5 for every nutria that they remove from the swamps, so that the plant life that nutria consumes might be saved.
From the state's standpoint, its objective is an environmental initiative that will save the swamp's indigenous flora from the foreign pest, as Louisiana's swamps cannot regrow their plants as quickly as nutria can reproduce.
But it seems hardly marketable that a fashion company would begin selling "rat" fur for designer prices, even though a mink and most other animals that produce marketable fur are within, or at least resemble, the rodent family. It seems even less likely that you could remotely claim that skinning pelts for apparel is in any way environmentally friendly, even if it is an unpopular animal.
Granted, people will act to destroy or remove a pestilence that contributes to environmental erosion, and it seems only practical to remove the rodents, whose bodies would normally fester in the swamp, and make something useful out of their pelts.
But it seems a bit contradictory to think that it is suitable to kill an animal, in order to save an area with equally disgusting geologic features. One could even argue that the preceding modifier "swamp" only works to further sully the connotations surrounding "rat."
One can only argue that it is only a rat, and that it less of an animal, when one has not skinned the animal in question, to see that it bleeds just like any other game mammal. Many people only feel guilty about killing lobsters when they are holding the struggling crustacean over the steaming water.
Without exception, we as an editorial board would not buy a rat-skin fur coat simply because it is a swamp rat's skin. We are no exception to the far-reaching stigma.
But we cannot bring ourselves to agree that it is environmentally friendly to kill any animal because of its diet, and it seems to some of us that the marketing pitch is a bit out of line in its reasoning.