State Relents on Taking 'Neuty' From Couple

Louisiana family's nutria is invasive species that needs to be kept at zoo, wildlife officials had said
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 18, 2023 5:30 AM CDT
Updated Mar 18, 2023 4:50 PM CDT
They've Raised 'Neuty' From Infancy. The State Wants Him
A wounded baby nutria that Denny Lacoste rescued is photographed in Metairie, Louisiana, on Monday.   (David Grunfeld/The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate via AP)

After a public outcry, Louisiana officials have decided a couple can keep their pet. Denny and Myra Lacoste had afoul of state law by having a 22-pound nutria—a beady-eyed, orange-toothed, rat-tailed rodent commonly considered a wetlands-damaging pest—as a pet that frolics with their dog, snuggles in their arms, and swims in the family pool. The Lacostes told New Orleans news outlets they were devastated at the potential loss of "Neuty," whom they said they raised from infancy when its siblings were killed in traffic. Wildlife and Fisheries officials now say the couple can apply for a permit that would let Neuty remain in their home legally, the AP reports.

"I think this is a good conclusion for all sides," said Jack Montoucet, Wildlife and Fisheries secretary. The details of the permit process are still being worked out, said officials, who initially said it's illegal to keep an orphaned or injured wild animal as a pet. A public petition drive followed, with more than 17,000 supporting letting the animal stay with the humans who raised him. The wildlife department had intended to have Neuty housed at the Baton Rouge Zoo. A department statement Friday had said officials went to remove the pet from the Lacostes' New Orleans-area residence on Thursday but hit a snag. "The nutria was not at the residence when agents arrived," the department said.

Nutria were introduced into North America more than a century ago, and they're considered a nuisance invasive species in Louisiana. Their appetite for wetlands vegetation and burrowing into levees hinder flood control, harm agriculture, and contribute to coastal wetlands loss. At various times, public officials have put bounties on them and encouraged hunting of them for their pelts and even for food. They're sometimes derided as "nutria rats." Yet they've also become such a familiar part of Louisiana lore that a New Orleans minor league baseball team once employed actors in costume as larger-than-life caricatures of them as mascots—Boudreaux and Clotile.

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Neuty was tiny when Denny Lacoste, who runs a family seafood restaurant, rescued him from a road near a canal more than two years ago. Now, the animal is a social media star, featured in TikTok videos and seen in a Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate video being held lovingly by Denny Lacoste, scampering across a floor with a towel and chomping down on a raw crawfish. Lacoste told the newspaper that Neuty even likes to ride in the car with his head out the window. The Baton Rouge Zoo said it was ready to give Neuty a home in an area with another male nutria. "In most cases, the animal would have been placed back into the wild. However, LDWF biologists and zoo officials said that since the animal has been habituated to humans, it would not be able to survive in the wild," the wildlife department said. This file has been updated with the state's decision not to seize the animal. (More nutria stories.)

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