Hutia A rare mammal
found only on a few low scrub-covered islands in 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
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.
Jamaican Hutia (Geocapromys brownii) is the
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
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.
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
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.