Main Menu   I   Contact      

The Bahamas Hutia  A rare mammal found only on a few low scrub-covered islands in the Bahamas. 

The Bahamas Hutia - Geocapromys ingrahami, is a herbivorous rodent 
until recently only found on remote East Plana Cay. This is one of the 
Hutias captured on the 'Regina Maris' expedition and then 
relocated to the Exuma Cays.

Until 1966, the Bahamas Hutia was believed to be extinct. Once common throughout the Bahama Islands, it was hunted for its meat, and preyed upon by the dogs and cats brought to the islands by the first settlers.

Dr Garrett Clough who participated in the Lerner Laboratory’s spring survey cruise of 1966 to the southern Bahamas rediscovered this unique Bahamian mammal.

The Plana Cays are unremarkable, semi-arid islands lying between Acklins and Mayaguana. It was on East Plana Cay that the Hutia was found.  Some five miles long but fairly narrow, the cay has sparse covering of low-lying vegetation interspersed with weathered Limestone slabs.

The Jamaican Hutia (Geocapromys brownii) is the 
closest living relative of the Bahamas Hutia 

Dr Clough’s night on the island was a remarkable experience. As darkness fell, hundreds of Hutia emerged from crevices and burrows, and went about their nocturnal business.

Since the discovery Dr Clough has visited East Plana Cay several more times, with several other scientists interested in the Hutia’s behaviour. These expeditions, together with laboratory studies on captive Hutias have given us much new knowledge on this animal, however much more still remains to be learned.

They are gregarious animals and have a very high population density on the Cay. Estimates suggest that ten thousand or more of the rabbit-sized rodents exist on the eleven hundred acres of East Plana Cay. Because of the population density, and the relatively long life of the Hutia, the reproductive rate is low, with females normally only producing one young at a time. The young are born in a precocious state, fully furred and with their eyes fully open and able to eat green food, a day or two after birth.

The Cuban Hutia (Capromys pilorides)

They feed on the leaves, twigs and bark of the island’s woody shrubs, and although well able to climb, prefer to eat vegetation at or near ground level.

The Hutia exhibits a high degree of social behaviour, including an interesting form of wrestling. This involves extended bouts of mutual grooming and tumbling together and does not appear to have either sexual or aggressive motivation.

Another unusual form of behaviour is scent marking with urine. Carried out by both males and females as they ramble around the island, this behaviour apparently serves in some way to ensure the cohesion of the population. Most mammals that employ scent marking with urine, such as dogs, utilise this to mark out their territory. This certainly is not the case with the Hutia.

By marking captured Hutias with tiny metal numbered ear tags, and then releasing them, an estimation of longevity can be made. One Hutia, tagged in 1973, was recaptured in 1981.

Although the population of Hutias on East Plan. Cay is healthy there still exists the danger of the population being wiped out by storm, disease, or introduced predators such as cats or dogs. Because of this possibility Hutias have been transplanted to other Cays, thought to be suitable for the animals. The first transplantation was made in 1973 to a small cay in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. Subsequent visitors have con firmed that the Hutias are thriving there. Dr Clough carried out another transplantation in 1981 with the scientists aboard the sailing ship ‘Regina Maris’. It will be several years before it is known if this transplantation has been successful, as this island, also in the Exuma Park is somewhat larger, and the Hutias will be difficult to find until their numbers have greatly increased.

As well as transplantation of the Hutia, conservation efforts have included legislation, captive breeding, and monitoring of their habitats as frequently as possible.

The Hutia is protected under the Wild Animals Protection Act of 1968 (along with Iguanas and the now extinct wild horses of Abaco). This Act prohibits the killing of Hutias or their capture without the appropriate permit from the. Ministry of Agricul­ture and Fisheries

Relatives of the Bahamian Hutia are found in several islands of the Caribbean. They are rare and difficult to find in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Three species in Cuba are listed as endangered, and the Jamaican population only exists in three isolated sections of the island. The Hutias of Little Swan Island are believed to have become extinct recently due to the depredations of introduced cats and dogs. It is entirely probable that the Bahamas may have the world’s only wild Hutia population by the end of this century if the conservation of this unique Bahamian mammal proves to be successful.