The news that huge, rat-like rodents had been spotted in Cork made waves last May.
A coypu, the South American species that has become a pest in many European countries, was spotted in the the Lee fields and in the Curraheen River, a tributary of the Lee that flows through Ballincollig.
Second Years Emer Conway and Nicola Batt, both aged 14, wanted to investigate the environmental threat posed to their area by the metre-long mammals should a breeding population establish itself.
The first shock for the girls was to discover what prolific breeders the rodents, who live on a diet of water plants and devastate marshland ecosystems, can be.
“We were working on a dispersion model,” Emer says. “We discovered that over three years, there could be 412 offspring from one breeding pair. They become sexually mature in four months, and once they’ve given birth they can become pregnant again by the next day so one pair could have a litter three times a year.”
Enlisting the help of Danny O’Keeffe, from the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NWPS), the girls went to seven locations on the Curraheen River to search for signs of their presence.
“We looked for indicators,” Nicola says. “We looked for droppings, fresh trails and burrows. But there wasn’t anything in any location, even though there were plants they would eat.”
This finding ties in with reports from the NWPS that 11 of the rodents had been trapped and killed on the Curraheen.
Nicola is no lover of rodents and says that at first, she was “petrified” by the idea of the giant rat-like creatures, but the process of learning about them made her approach her phobia in a more scientific manner.
However, knowing what a huge amount of damage the rodents can cause, the students were relieved to find that, for now at least, the threat has disappeared.
“They burrow into banks and cause flooding and they also eat crops and compete with native species,” Emer says. “We were surprised to learn the amount of damage they could create.
“But another purpose of our project is to make people aware to keep an eye out for them, so that if they did come back we could keep them under control and stop them doing more damage.”
On Tuesday 19th December 2017, students of Ballincollig Community School and their families, gathered at the Oriel House Hotel, to celebrate academic achievement in the State Examinations in 2017.
Students were acknowledged for reaching the highest of standards in the Junior Cert, Leaving Cert and Leaving Cert Applied. Specially commissioned awards were presented by Senator Jerry Buttimer, who in his address reminded the students to follow their dreams and use their educational opportunities to be innovative and creative in their future careers. School Principal, Kathleen Lowney, said that while the school was proud of all of its students who reached a personal best in the State Examinations, this was a night to celebrate the success of its high achievers.
Amongst the recipients on the night, were Andrew Cooke, Sam Benson, Martin O Reilly and Ellen O Flaherty, who have all won scholarships, based on their Leaving Cert Results, in UCC and Mary Immaculate College, Limerick.