When Audubon Zoo refused Nutria Rodeo’s 10-ton heap of useless rodents, organizers acquired inventive

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Tristan Baurick
| The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Attorney

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USA TODAY

Standing on a boat dock in Venice, Gabe Macormic faced a unique challenge: find someone willing to take a sunburned 10-ton pile of dead nutrients off their hands.

On a lark, Macormic had resurrected the long dormant Plaquemines Parish Nutria Rodeo, an event that aims to push back the booming population of orange-toothed South American rodents that have been devouring Louisiana swamps for nearly a century. He expected an expanded circle of friends to attend. They would whiz around on airboats, have a few laughs, maybe shoot a few hundred swamp rats.

But when the rodeo started on Friday, about 200 hunters showed up. On Saturday night, when prizes were awarded for the most kills and the largest nutria, Macormic was faced with a body size well above his expectations: around 1,500 nutria.

More: “It was the greatest fun I’ve ever had”: Revived “Nutria Rodeo” packs 1,500 rodents

“I thought we got a couple hundred,” he said. “I had no idea we were going to shoot so many.”

The nutria was starting to stink, but Macormic wasn’t worried. Before the rodeo, the Audubon Zoo had agreed to take over the entire route. It was a win-win: Macormic would dump a ton of dead nutrients, and the zoo would get free meat for its alligators.

It was good for the swamp too. Nutria has devoured at least 40 square kilometers of the Louisiana coastline for the past 20 years, adding to a land loss crisis that has left the state more vulnerable to rising seas and stronger, more frequent storms.

There is no market for nutria fur, and few people want to eat nutria meat. A government bounty program now comes nowhere near its goal of killing at least 400,000 nutria per year, despite the recent increase in the reward from $ 5 to $ 6 per nutria tail.

The zoo was fully on board the rodeo and called its agreement with Macormic an “opportunity to clean up litter and help preserve the wetlands”.

But when a truck and trailer headed for New Orleans on Sunday with the first load, the zoo suddenly called the whole thing.

“When I said they were going to get fifteen hundred, they said, ‘Oh God. Please no,'” Macormic said.

The condition of the carcasses was also an issue. Macormic admits they came in hot and smelly.

“The timing of the animals’ death to the time we received them, coupled with the record heat, was not conducive to feeding these animals to our alligators,” zoo officials said in a statement.

Bottom line: you were disgusting.

“They smelled like what you’d expect a bunch of dead rats to smell,” Macormic said. “It was pretty bad.”

The Venice marina with the corpse-laden dock had supported the rodeo, but the manager’s patience was waning. It was an unusually warm day in late February. The temperatures had risen to over 80 degrees and the stench was worsening.

“You said you have to find out – like now,” said Macormic.

When Macormic was wondering what to do with the smelly pile, a deckhand came over and offered to help. “He said he knew a man who did that sort of thing,” said Macormic.

Like in, some guy who knows how to deal with 1,500 dead nutrients?

“I think so,” said Macormic. “And he was right.”

A short time later, a crab boat stopped and offered to take the entire cargo. Macormic neither got the name of the cancer nor did he ask many questions.

“He said he would use them to bait his crab traps,” Macormic said. “He seemed happy to have her.”

It’s not that farfetched for a crabber to ingest a bunch of dead nutrients, said Julie Lively, a crab fishing expert at LSU AgCenter.

“Crabs will eat anything,” she said. “Using nutria as bait isn’t something I’ve heard of before, but I’m not surprised a crab would give it a try.”

Crabs often use anything that is cheap and readily available. When Louisiana had many catfish processing operations, catfish heads were used to bait traps. Today, crabs spend about $ 1 a pound on menhaden, a small school fish caught primarily for fertilizer and fish oil production.

Many commercial trappers operate hundreds or 1,000 traps at a time. The bait slots are about the size of nutria. The ranking of the rodeo nutria could only have been Lagniappe for the crabber.

“If something smells bad or is a little dilapidated, [crabs] glad to try, “Lively said.” It can help attract them. “

For next year’s rodeo, Macormic plans to work more closely with the zoo to keep the dead nutrients on ice and have them transported earlier.

“Yeah, I was a little baffled when I had to get rid of them all,” he said. “But shooting too many nutria – that’s a good problem.”