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Agouti and National Zoo: Jaguar Connection

Jul 15, 2015 04:04 PM EDT
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In drama worthy of a Steve McQueen movie (or maybe a bit more plodding), a male agouti briefly escaped from an outdoor enclosure at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C., earlier this week, a release said.

An agouti is a large and attractive rodent, about the size of a large house cat. This particular animal, named Macadamia, was herded back into an enclosure within 30 minutes, according to the zoo's release. He is fine.

Zoo staff were able to patch a small escape hole in the industrial stainless-steel mesh, through which the agouti apparently had chewed. Keepers are conducting a full review of the enclosure. Macadamia arrived at the zoo a few months ago and hasn't yet met his mate, Hazelnut, the zoo said.

In the wild, agoutis live in the forests of Central and South America and in the West Indies. They are attracted to the sound of ripe fruits hitting the ground, notes the National Science Foundation (NSF) website.

In their natural habitat, researchers funded by the NSF are studying the relationship between agoutis and the small cat the ocelot. With jaguars near extinction in many parts of South America, scientists have worked to see if the natural order can be maintained. They have concluded that the smaller cats are sufficiently controlling the rodent numbers, the NSF website says.

For their part, agoutis are responsible for maintaining tree growth: They disperse the spring palm tree seed that is their major food source. NSF scientists have attached motion sensors to the seeds to monitor their whereabouts as agoutis gather and store them, says the website, and they look forward to making further conclusions.

Follow Catherine at @TreesWhales

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