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Report of invasive rodent species spotted along Royal Canal most likely case of 'mistaken identity'

Waterways Ireland believes the sighting was likely that of a native otter.

Updated Mar 22nd 2019, 9:32 PM

shutterstock_1322911871 File image Source: Shutterstock/Red Squirrel

A RECENT ALLEGED sighting of a large invasive rodent species on the banks of the Royal Canal was “a case of mistaken identity” according to officials.

Earlier today, locals near Ashtown in Dublin were warned to be on the lookout for possible Coypu sightings. 

The large rat-like creatures, which originate in South America, can grow to a metre in length (including tail) and can weigh up to 9kg. 

Waterways Ireland, which manages canals and other inland waterways across the island, has now said it believes the sighting was likely that of a native otter. 

Earlier this week Waterways Ireland received notification of an unconfirmed report from the National Biodiversity Data Centre via National Parks and Wildlife Services of a Coypu on the Royal Canal. We are obliged to take this seriously, given the potential implications posed by a Coypu presence on Irish waterways.

“All evidence now leads us to believe that this was a case of mistaken identity and the report was likely that of native Otter, which are present on the Royal Canal,” Waterways Ireland wrote on Facebook.

In 2017, a similar alert was issued in Cork when it emerged the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) trapped 10 coypus in the Curraheen area after a sighting of the rodent two years previously. 

“They burrow into river banks, drainage banks, and create an elaborate tunnel system. This undermines these structures and left unchecked they can cause a lot of damage,” Danny O’Keeffe of the NPWS told us at the time

They can destroy food crops especially root crops, and they can eat birds’ eggs. Furthermore when they become established it can be costly to eradicate. 

Source: Muskrat Studios/YouTube

According to this week’s advisory from Waterways Ireland, eradication programmes to get rid of such rodents can cost several million euro and are not always successful.

It added that the potential sighting at the canal in Ashtown this month “raises concern of further spread” of the rodent, in the wake of their detected presence in Cork. 

Despite the case of mistaken identity, Waterways Ireland is encouraging the public to report any possible Coypu sightings, preferably with a confirmation photo. 

The agency issued this description: 

• Large semi-aquatic rodent up to 1 metre in head to tail length
• Features same in juveniles
• It can weigh 5-9kg
• It has webbed hind feet
• Dark fur often with lighter ends and has a white muzzle
• Has long cylindrical tail (not fur tail like otter) and small slightly protruding ears
• Distinctive features are large bright orange-yellow incisor (front) teeth usually visible
• Coypu are generally found near permanent water

The advisory concludes: 

PLEASE DO NOT ATTEMPT TO ENGAGE, TRAP OR HARM THESE ANIMALS:

Please keep a look out for these creatures along the waterways and report sightings with photographs to any of the following below:

• Waterways Ireland Environment Section 061-922141
• NPWS at biodiversitypolicy@chg.gov.ie or your local National Parks and Wildlife ranger with details of location/date; a photo if available  or 
invasives@biodiversityireland.ie or
http://records.biodiversityireland.ie 

With reporting from Adam Daly

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Daragh Brophy

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