Invasive species a growing threat in Chile

Until a few decades ago, there were no beavers in Patagonia.

That changed when 20 pairs of the tree-chewing creature were introduced with the hopes of creating a fur industry.

Today, their numbers have exploded and they pose a serious threat to the South American area’s biodiversity.

Species have always moved. The wind carries seeds; animals swim and fly. But not all are capable of crossing the Atlantic or the Andes.

In ways planned or unforeseen, humans have introduced species, and the newcomers quickly become invaders and threaten to destroy the native flora and fauna of their adopted homes.

“When we lose biodiversity, we are losing a bank of genetic material that we need for food or to create medicines,” said Fernando Baeriswyl, a co-ordinator for the Global Environment Fund specialising in invasive species in Chile.

But in Patagonia, the native trees don’t regenerate fast enough to keep pace with the animals’ rampant destructive powers. Plus beavers in Patagonia don’t have any natural predators, like bears or wolves.

With the trees they fell, beavers build dams up to 3m tall.

Within a few years of their export to the southern tip of Patagonia, the animals had expanded their range.

Their advance has been so swift that they now represent a menace that is proving hard to control. Authorities in Argentina and Chile have authorised the hunting of the animals, but these efforts have not stopped the beaver.

Chile and Argentina are now determined to eradicate them , said Adrian Schiavini, a beaver specialist from a regional research centre.

In the Huilo Huilo reserve in southern Chile, invasive-species experts got together last month for the country’s first national meeting on invasive species in protected areas, to try to tackle the problem.

Invasive species travel in ships, in clothes and shoes, or even in people’s stomachs. When they get to a new environment, they can often proliferate thanks to a lack of natural predators.

As they spread, they can gradually alter entire ecosystems, transforming the natural diets of local species.

In the worst cases, they can wipe out entire native species.

According to specialists, along with pollution and climate change, invasive species are one of the most damaging challenges for our planet.

In the case of beavers, the animals will be caught in traps that ensure a quick death.

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