Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tierra del Castor

Ushuaia, Argentina

To escape justice following World War II, many Axis Alliance officers were rumoured to go into hiding in the hinterlands of South America. While some of these war criminals were eventually brought to justice, it is the immigration of a more peacefully perceived lot that continues to this day to be the scourge of Argentina.

In 1946, twenty-five pairs of Canadian Beavers were introduced to Rio Clara on the island of Tierra del Fuego. In the absence of any predators or competitors, these buck-toothed rodents have gnawed their way to a present population of over 100,000 strong and with it have gained the status of a despised pest.

The government of Argentina at the time of the introduction was simply trying to diversify the economy of the southernmost region of that country. While a systematic understanding of ecology was not in vogue, the wearing of beaver pelts was so there seemed to be some value in establishing commercial beaver farms to feed the demand. The farming of beavers in captivity failed and the stock was released to the wilds by the despondent ranchers. But the dreams of beaver farms not only died in Latin America, they also died back home.

By 1946 Canadian veterans were sorting out what to do with their lives after witnessing the horrors of the battlefield. As most were initially from the farm, that is where they returned

with some assistance from a grateful government in hand. Some veterans saw their future in beaver. Hopes were high for pelts sales and even higher for live animals that would soon enough be bound for the Argentine demand. With opportunity knocking, beaver ranches were built in the foothills of Alberta, housing up to 40 pairs in customized lodges throughout the winter. As the spring of 1947 turned to summer, the Alberta ranchers came to the same realization as their Argentinian campadre- beavers don’t breed well in captivity.

Where Tierra del Fuego now has a landscape modified by dams, stumps and beaver-felled trees, Alberta also has a legacy to this time. Hidden not far from ancient beaver streams are eroded concrete mini-barracks. At the abandoned farms, the only sign of a past dream is the beaver chew growing like weeds in the former pens of the unranchable rodents.

No comments:

Post a Comment