Eat or toss nutria rats at the Nutria rodeo!

Nutria rats are an invasive species in about twenty US states. They're a particularly sinister problem in the gulf, where their munching habits are directly contributing to rapid coastal erosion. Originally from South America, the rodents of unusual size were introduced to North America in the 1880s by shortsighted fur trappers. They released the beasts into the wild following the decline of the fur trade. Nutria destroy around 80,000-100,000 acres of marsh annually. We need a hero. Maybe one in camo and an airboat?

Ostensibly, the Rodeo is supposed to encourage hunters to do their part in mitigating the results of human error, which it does, but it also is an exercise relishing in the pure glee of the hunt.

Each team signs up on Thursday, then has all of Friday and half of Saturday to shoot and kill as many nutria rats as possible. Curiously, the winners have to pass a polygraph test. There are various contests to win- largest rodent, highest rodent count, both in and out of airboat. All the winning teams are awarded money and a novelty-sized check.

Did you know that you can eat rodent? And that it's all dark meat? The most strangely wholesome contest of the rodeo is the cookoff.

What's the best way to prepare nutria, a truly ethical meat?

With a pun, of course.

Source: Natalie Dressed

Tacos, nutria-mein, gumbo, a roast. I was partial to team Rat-A-Stewy's Sauce Piquante. The roast was an excellent, hearty affair. I got some part of the animal that looked like a ladle with a hole in it. It was fatty, a little earthy and perfectly cooked.

But the true main event is the nutria toss.

If throwing the carcass of a dead, wet, gigantic, wetland-eating rodent around for sport doesn't sound like your idea of a good time, I'd advise that you stay home and re-watch Gladiator in preparation for the upcoming sequel.

The battle starts with the child's division, where the wet thuds of inanimate rodent on concrete can't be heard beyond the parent's huddle. Charming, if disturbing.

The women's league follows, most of them throwing underhand with a few experimental tosses that land in the audience. The career nurses seem to be the strongest of the contestants.

Flying rodent, recently heaved. Source: Natalie Dressed
Rodent landed. The bottles indicate the farthest throws in the men's competition. Source: Natalie Dressed

The men's league concludes, the spectacle beginning with a Charles Bronson-lookalike, shirtless in the 45˚ weather, flexing and growling at the audience. He chucks well. Another contestant's toss lands in the water nearby. By the time the men's match is on, the animal carcasses are sacks of gristle, held in form by their tough outer layer. The thuds get thuddier throughout the night.

I've always thought that it'd be great if we had some kind of object to shoot at in order to quell the tide of climate change. Shaking fists at Halliburton Road, just three miles up from the Venice, Louisiana marina, is a worthy use of time, but some really simplistic solution to this gargantuan mess we've gotten ourselves into would soothe many a weary heart. Nutria are such a gift. Shoot this thing, though it's cute in it's half-rat, half-capybara way, help fix the problem, feel good about yourself, win cash prizes. Forget that this entire region is contaminated with oil refineries, petrochemical plants and the like. Fling a giant rat, dance to Zydeco, get drunk, have a great night.

Previously: It's not nutria rats, but Rodents of Unusal Size is a documentary about massive, 20-pound swamp rats.