Pet treat company Marsh Dog offers Barataria Bites, a dog biscuit, and Bark, a meat jerky, made from nutria, a rodent found in Louisiana and native to South America.
Nutria were initially brought over from South America to be farmed for their fur, and trappers kept the population down. As fur fell out of fashion, however, the animals began to overtake their habitats. Today, nutria are considered an invasive pest and are hunted for population control purposes.
When the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program announced a grant program for new conservation projects to preserve, protect and restore south Louisiana, siblings Hansel and Veni Harlan submitted an application. Their idea was to process some of the potentially wasted nutria carcasses to make dog food or treats, and they won a small grant. In 2011, they launched Marsh Dog, currently the only commercial seller of nutria meat.
Each step of Marsh Dog's biscuit production is carried out by hand by employees at the company's headquarters, in Baton Rouge, La. Jerky is produced offsite. The company distributes to pet stores, veterinary offices and natural-food shops within a hundred miles. The products can also be ordered online. "I know we can't solve the coastal problem, but we can help educate about it," said Hansel. In 2012, Marsh Dog won the Conservation Business of the Year award from the Louisiana Wildlife Federation.