On the Trail With a Nutria Hunter

by:  George Payne



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Louisiana's Most Wanted;


Ferrell is one of the last of the true Cajuns who makes his living from the land. He has a simple lifestyle when measured by modern terms, but he is one of the happiest men I have ever met.

Nutria Damage

Cutting the marsh grass all the way to the ground.

Nutria Holes

This is one of the most destrutive sides of the Nutria. The nutria use the entrance/exits to eat the marsh from above and below the surface. These holes are the beginning of the end for this area of marsh. As storms and tides push in these holes cause the marsh to break apart.

A Slide

The quickest way down to the water. Ferrell looks for these as he sets his traps.

Small Bayou that Nutria like to Frequent.

Louisiana Wetland's Greatest Savior

Another Image of Ferrell at Work

Part of a Day's Work

From here, Ferrell takes his catch to an alligator farm, where the meat is used to feed the alligators. The tails are sold to the state for a bounty of $4.00/each. It's a hard way to make a living, but for Ferrell it is the only way.


The nutria, a native of South America and large rodent like animal, is almost single handedly carving the coastal wetlands up, one mouthful at a time. Brought to Louisiana in the 1930's for their fur and meat potential, the nutria eventually made there way into the marsh either by accident or on purpose.  There is a lot of debate surrounding this topic, but regardless of how they got free, the damage they can do is unmistakable. With the presence of only a few natural predators, they are free to breed and eat and that is where men like Ferrell Savoie comes in.  Recently,  I had the pleasure of spending the day with  Savoie as he hunted for Louisiana's most wanted -- the marsh, destroying nutria.

"It won't be long before they eat their way to New Orleans. It's so obvious where they have been.  Where there once was marsh, now there is nothing but water."  said Ferrell.

"On the surface, the marsh seems solid.  When you first get out of a boat, it feels fine under your feet.  But when you walk, the ground sinks slightly under your feet. " Ferrell said. In actuality the marsh is a floating bed of vegetation and decaying organic matter.  

To Louisiana's ecosystem, the marsh is critical.  It provides a premium breeding ground for all different types of birds, alligators, frogs, etc...  and it provides an estuary  for crustaceans and fish to breed (such as shrimp, redfish, and speckle trout).

Without it, the Gulf of Mexico would be on our door step, a critical breeding ground for shrimp, redfish, etc would be gone, and we would have no protection from hurricanes.  For the Nutria, the marsh is a Domino's Pizza all you can eat buffet. They begin  by eating the marsh from above mowing the grass to the ground.  Then, once they has eaten everything from above, the nutria digs a hole, swims underneath, and starts working on the roots.  When you walk past the destruction they bring, it is unbelievable.  Where there once was solid marsh, there is now nothing but small channels running from the main bayou. Inch by inch, mouth full by mouth full, the marsh disappears.

In response, the State of Louisiana has put a bounty on the Nutria at four dollars a tail.  This is where men like Ferrell come in.  They walk the marsh setting traps trying to catch this enemy before it eats everything in sight.  The day we were together, we ran thirty traps and caught about eight nutria.  It wasn't easy, and at times, it was even dangerous.  At one point I stepped into a nutria hole.  Thank God  Ferrell was there or China might have been my next destination.   "There are a lot easier ways I could make$32.00, but its not about the money.  It about living off the land." says Ferrell.  "See for me, I don't want anything more than what the marsh gives me."  "Running traps, eating good food, living life as I see fit, that's what it is all about.  With the state's bounty in place, it now makes sense to catch nutria.  Without it the price of meat and hides are so low, I couldn't afford to do this. We will see what next year brings.  The nutria may get too thin to make trapping worth while, or the state could do away with this project.  I hope not because walking a trap line is when I am the happiest."

The next day after walking with Ferrell, his boat hit a submerged log and did about $1000 worth of damage.  I know he said the bounty was important, but it is obvious to me he just loves to do this.  To him being free means more than all the gold in the world.  A few dollars for a nutria tail doesn't make up for the hole in his boat or the risk he takes to his own life when he goes out alone for hours at a time.   

It is certain that without men like Ferrell the nutria would eventually take over, and the Gulf of Mexico would take over most of South Louisiana. 

From all of us.....Thanks  Ferrell.



All content is copyrighted, George Payne 2004.  Please do not use without permission.