Nutria hunter Thomas Gonzalez appears with four dead nutria in the documentary “Rodents of an Unusual Size.” Photo: Tilapia Film

By G. Allen Johnson
29 August 2018

(San Francisco Chronicle) – The Louisiana shoreline is under a dire environmental siege.

No, it has nothing to do with offshore drilling, climate change or hurricanes. We’re talking millions of 20-pound swamp rats eating away at wetlands, swamplands and forests, eroding shorelines and making them vulnerable to those other threats.

It’s become such a problem that the state of Louisiana is paying private citizens to kill these rats, called nutria, in an attempt to win the battle for the shore.

The documentary, Rodents of an Unusual Size, by Bay Area filmmakers Chris Metzler, Quinn Costello, and Jeff Springer, lays out the problem nutria pose but also takes us into the bizarre Louisiana subculture built around the critters that include a rodent-style Cajun cuisine and a local fur industry.

“There’s a continuity of a kind of full sensory experience of being there, between the food, music, the ungodly meat — it all blends together,” Costello said during a lunch with the three directors in San Francisco. (The restaurant did not serve nutria, thank goodness.)

Nutria are not native to Louisiana. They were brought there from Argentina sometime in the 1930s to be bred for their fur. Coats, shawls and hats from nutria fur were an international thing once — movie stars such as Greta Garbo and Sophia Loren wore them.

But there was a problem. These rodents escaped during storms and multiplied like rabbits. During the 1970s and ’80s, anti-fur and animal rights activists helped kill the industry. That left nutria out in the wild. They are vegetarians that eat and eat and eat. Shorelines were endangered, and the Louisiana government approved a program to hunt nutria.

The filmmakers spent four years in and around the Louisiana swamps making “Rodents of an Unusual Size,” and what they came back with is not only mind-blowingly informative, but also one of the most entertaining documentaries of the year. [more]

Louisiana residents vs. 20-pound swamp rats in ‘Rodents of an Unusual Size’

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