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New efforts begin to eradicate swamp rats

SALISBURY, Md., Oct. 29 (UPI) -- Federal wildlife biologists are working to eradicate swamp rats from the Delmarva Peninsula in Maryland.

A nearly 10-year-long state and federal project to get rid of nutria, or swamp rats, from Maryland has killed 13,000 of the rodents, but has failed to eliminate them from the Delmarva Peninsula, The Washington Post reported Friday.

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Swamp rats, native to South America, rip plants up by the roots, eroding land that supports marshes, home to blue crabs and juvenile fish.

"If you like crab cakes," Stephen KenĀ­drot, the nutria project leader for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services, said Wednesday, "you ought to be worried about nutria."

The USDA hopes to eradicate swamp rats from the Delmarva Peninsula, which stretches from Dover, Del., to near Virginia Beach, by 2015.

Biologists can't set traps along the 24-mile Wicomico River where evidence of several nutria colonies have been spotted until homeowners in the area give them give them permission.

Traps used are quite effective in killing the giant rats, said USDA wildlife biologist Daniel Dawson.

"When they climb through and hit the trigger -- bang," Dawson said.

Nutria, a semiaquatic animal, were first imported to the Chesapeake Bay region in the 1930s and 1940s by fur farmers who wanted to sell their fur. The business did not do well and most of the animals escaped farms. Before the animals were introduced, the Delmarva Peninsula was a green marshland, which now has almost disappeared, the Post said.

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Biologists believe Maryland has the largest swamp rat population next to Louisiana.

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