BATON ROUGE, La. — After much public outcry, state officials now say they will let a Louisiana couple keep 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 Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, in a statement Friday, said Myra and Denny Lacoste are being allowed to apply for a permit so they can legally keep Neuty the Nutria in their New Orleans home, The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reported. Montoucet said details of the permit are being finalized.
The announcement came after more than 17,000 people signed an online petition demanding that the state leave Neuty and his family alone.
''I think this is a good conclusion for all sides,'' Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Jack Montoucet said.
The rodent has been living with the Lacostes for more than two years. The wildlife department initially said Thursday that it had arranged for the animal to be transported to the Baton Rouge Zoo, citing state law banning the ownership of a nutria, which is considered an invasive species. But after the response, the agency provided special conditions allowing the family to keep the nutria as a pet within the law, according to the newspaper.
''We're beyond ecstatic,'' Myra Lacoste said.
Denny Lacoste encountered the injured animal in 2020 when its siblings were killed in traffic. He and his wife hand-fed the animal until it was able to eat on its own. Then they reared it as a pet.
Now, the animal is a social media star, featured in TikTok videos and seen in a New Orleans Times-Picayune/The 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.
Myra Lacoste said she and her husband conceded to several stipulations, including regular veterinary checkups and keeping it caged when at the family's seafood business, in order keep their pet.
Nutria were introduced into North America more than a century ago, and they are considered a nuisance invasive species in Louisiana. Their appetite for wetlands vegetation and their 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 are sometimes derided as ''nutria rats.'' Yet they have also become such a familiar part of Louisiana landscape and lore that a New Orleans minor league baseball team once employed actors in costume as larger-than life caricatures of the creatures as mascots — Boudreaux and Clotilde.
Now that the ordeal is over, Myra Lacoste said, ''We're anxious to hold him and smooch on him.''