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Beavers: Invasion of the End of the World on - The Best Documentaries... Instantly On Demand

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The island of Tierra del Fuego has been overrun by invaders: Canadian beavers. The species was introduced in 1946, in what turned out to be one of the most disastrous attempts to change an environment for human advantage. From an original twenty beavers, the population has now surpassed 150,000 and poses a severe threat to local wildlife on the island, and potentially to the rest of continental South America.

In their North American home, beavers exist harmoniously with the environment. The trees they fell re-sprout from the stump and grow back within ten years. However, the Lenga tree native to South America cannot re-sprout and takes 80 years to regrow. The consequences of this natural variation have been calamitous: swathes of woodland on Tierra del Fuego have been destroyed, and its rivers are choked with dams.

There have been several initiatives to put the beaver population to positive use, from producing high-fashion fur clothing to promoting tourism through beaver sighting tours and merchandise. There has also been gastronomic inventiveness, with chefs turning initially unappealing meat into the latest modern cuisine: as Carlos Garris comments: “they took a broomstick and turned it into a banana”.

However, the benefit of these products has been outweighed by the serious concerns prompted by the discovery of beavers on the beaches of continental Chile. This has lead to deep fears that the animals will invade northwards and devastate the Patagonian forests: “It’s a species invading the Chilean and Argentinian side of Tierra del Fuego… [it] does not recognize borders.”

The conversation has taken a drastic turn with plans made for full scale eradication, but the program is fraught with political, technical, and moral difficulties. Claudio Bertonatti, director of Buenos Aires zoo, encapsulates this tension. “Who doesn’t like to say ‘let’s solve this problem’, ‘let’s capture all the beavers alive without doing any harm’. But it is a delusion, technically unfeasible, economically impossible.”

Ultimately, the catastrophic history of the beaver on Tierra del Fuego is an expression of a fundamental disconnect between humans and nature. “We have a bad relationship with nature. We do not know her. We look at her from the window. We do not walk through her. Do not feel her, nor smell her, nor hear her sounds.”


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