CORK wildlife ranger Danny O'Keeffe said there has been a large public response to a request by Cork County Council to report sightings of the rat-like coypu mammal but it is highly unlikely that an infestation will spread into residential areas and housing estates.
A number of the rodents, which are natives of South America, have been spotted in the Curraheen River and beyond and are believed to be breeding after a small number were accidentally released near the Cork greyhound track two years ago.
“We've had a good few sightings. People are maybe thinking that they've seen a giant rat or something like an otter scattered all over the city from the Marina, to Douglas, to Maryborough Hill and Mallow. It's great to see so many people have got back to us so soon,” said Mr O'Keeffe.
“They are mostly aquatic in nature so I think this kind of doomsday scenario of giant rats around housing estates is not something to be worried about at this stage or any stage.
“They are confined to aquatic environments and they are omnivores and they eat plants and roots. If they have a stable food source, they'll stay in those areas,” he added.
The public are being urged to report the sighting to Mr O'Keeffe directly or contact the National Biodiversity Data Centre but Mr O'Keeffe added that people should not touch or try to capture the animals in order to avoid the spread of disease or infection.
“Any wild animal that has the potential to bite may carry disease so I would be advising people if the seem the animal to record it....take a photograph and leave it be. It's important that people are reminded that any wild animal has the potential to carry disease,” he said.
Coypu can be infected with several pathogens and parasites that can be transmitted to humans, livestock, and pets.
The mammal may also host a number of parasites, including the nematodes and blood flukes that cause 'nutria itch" or 'swimmer's itch'.
Biodiversity Ireland said the threat of disease may be an important consideration for humans in some situations. Livestock can be affected if they drink from water contaminated by coypu faeces and urine.