Snips and snails and Nutria tails, that’s what Cajun’s are made of… If you don’t know what a Nutria is, you’re about to find out in the entertainingly bizarre documentary “A Rodent of Unusual Size” by Chris Metzler, Jeff Springer and Quinn Costello. The Nutria is a large rodent ranging in weight about 15- 20 pounds. Picture a cross between a rat, a beaver, a rabbit and your dog. While it isn’t a rat, it is referred to as a Swamp Rat. With webbed feet and ever-growing teeth, the better to gnaw everything in its path, this rodent has taken over much of Louisiana. The results are devastating to the people and the environment, turning the bayou into “dead zones” and losing miles of coastal wetland each year.
The film take us to the coast of this southern state and we meet the people who attempt to keep this animal under control. It’s also a trip back in time as we learn about an innocent endeavor gone wrong. Using graphic artwork, the filmmakers create a backstory to better understand this nightmarish creature and how Louisiana finds itself in this predicament. The Nutria was introduced to the Louisiana area many decades ago to create a fur source when the fur industry was at its highest. Unfortunately, when an foreign animal is introduced to a habitat it is not naturally a part of, dire consequences can result, particularly when there are no natural predators. With the fur industry becoming taboo, the Nutria population boomed and that is when the coastal areas of Louisiana began to see the immediate consequences of the Nutria’s insatiable appetite and prolific procreation. Eating the roots and all vegetation it can find compromised the ground’s stability—storms simply and easily wash coastal shorelines back into the ocean. However, Louisianans, as many of the film’s subjects state, are survivors and creativity is not lost with their novel control methods as they attempt to reclaim their land and save the environment.
Narrated by Wendell Pierce, “A Rodent of Unusual Size” is a film that, at every turn, makes you utter words of astonishment. With your eyes wide open and mouth agape, you see first-hand what these critters are, what they have done, and how Louisianans attempt to manage the population. We get to know Thomas Gonzales from Delacroix Island and his family who have hunted Nutria for generations. His thick dialect endears you to him as he shares with us his love of his homeland. Eradication of this animal to restore the coast and save the environment is not possible, but managing it is. With the novel approaches from Louisiana Wildlife, $5 per tail, the area has created a new economic base. College kids can come in for the summer and make enough money to pay for their college tuition. With 25 million Nutrias growing at exponentially fast rates, (they begin breeding at 6 months, and give birth every 4 months), that allows for a lot of tuition reimbursement. In addition, the indigenous American Indians recognized that waste of the animal should not occur. Use of its pelt and meat are an option. Cree McCree designs fur fashions for Righteous Fur and innovative chefs like Kermit Ruffin (also a talented musician) serve up Nutria BBQ. While fur is still frowned upon, the pelt of this rodent is much like a beaver and a sustainable way to have a fur without the guilt.
“A Rodent of Unusual Size” is not for the faint of heart and many parts, particularly for animal lovers, are difficult to watch. The well-balanced film does set the tone, however, of understanding that this rodent is an environmental threat as well as a hazard for the people, many of whom are economically challenged. The rodent is moving inland to urban areas as well. Imagine one of these creatures greeting you in your bathroom as it has found passage through the sewer system. And the Nutria isn’t just invading Louisiana. It can be found all over the U.S. and the world. Louisiana, with its ingenious methods to control the population, is the leader in helping others save their land and environment.
As an animal lover and environmentalist, this film created an insightful and very unique story that is at once engaging, entertaining and informative. The film will premiere at the DOC NYC Film Festival on Wednesday, November 15. For ticket information, go to www.docnyc.net