This is how we do it...
This is how we do it... /

History is full of surprises. Here is one. Near the middle of the 20th century, Argentina imported 40 or so beavers from Canada and released them in the tip of South America, Tierra del Fuego. This tip is shared by Chile and Argentina. The inspiration for the ecological experiment was, of course, money. A lucrative fur market, however, never materialized; but due to a lack of predators (North American bears eat beavers), the rodent very quickly adapted to and positively thrived in their new world. The tree's of Tierra del Fuego were met with an enemy they had never imagined. Without warning, they were hit hard by the teeth and the tenacity. The area now has 200,000 aquatic creatures whose whole species-being is building dams.

And the humans hate them as much as the trees of Tierra del Fuego. What you can expect to never see in Chile and Argentina is a special coin honoring the beaver. If river-loving trees could draw or paint, they would certainly picture the beaver as the monstrous one embossed on the coin recently released by the Royal Canadian Mint.

According to, Chile and Argentine first tried to get rid of the pests by offering "incentives to trappers to hunt [them]..." This did not work well enough. Today, these countries simply want 100,000 dead beavers by any means necessary.

But one can guess that South America's tenacious population of unloved beavers (and some fear they will move north) will not be reduced in any significant way because we live in a world that's no longer crazy about hats made from their fur. This was not the case in the 18th century. At that time, the coat of the rodent was just the thing. This fact is mentioned in the sixth lecture of Patrick N. Allitt's Teaching Company course The Rise and Fall of the British Empire. (For more light on this connection, please read this post—the last post in this series is here.)


A long and profitable fur trade developed in French Canada. Beaver fur hats, where high-status items in Europe. And this was one more of the luxury trades on which the European empires in the New World were based. Every year [Native Americans] dispersed over vast distances to hunt the beaver [down] and then in the spring, when the rivers thawed, brought them back... to trade them for guns, ammunition, alcohol, and metal goods. The over-hunting of the beaver population led to the gradual exhaustion of the animals and the need to range ever further across the afield. So, [beavers were hunted] all the way across the Canadian Prairies, right to the Rocky Mountains by the late 1700s [the dawn of the second capitalist empire in the world, Great Britain]

Wars were fought over the beaver. Many, many men died for the animal's "high-status" fur. This is a part of the story of Empire. But the beavers of Tierra del Fuego have it pretty good. Their chances are not that bad. Unlike their ancestors in the US and Canada, they are not up against a popping luxury market for their hide. These beavers are just a nuisance.