Friday 20 September, 2019

CriTTers of T&T: All about Agoutis

During hunting season, Agoutis are often the 'wild meat' of choice for hunters.

Known in Trinidad and Tobago as Dasyprocta leporina, agoutis are native to Trinidad and Tobago but are also found on the South American mainland. 

However, irresponsible hunting methods, that is, killing pregnant females or very young agoutis, could affect the sustainability of these little critters. 

Ricardo Meade, founder and director of the El Socorro Centre for Wildlife Conservation, gives LoopTT a closer look at the agouti and shows how to practice responsible methods to ensure their numbers remain at a sustainable level.

Meade suggested the trapping method for agoutis instead of using hunting dogs, as this would allow the hunter to examine the animal first to ensure that it was not pregnant. 

Here are five things you may not know about agoutis, courtesy the University of the West Indies:

1. Male agoutis are usually smaller than females

Chances are, if you've caught an unusually large one, you may have caught a female, and she may be pregnant.

2. Agoutis help maintain biodiversity

They are usually active at dusk and dawn, and spend most of their time sniffing, digging and searching for and eating fruits, seeds and pulp and roots. As a result, the agouti plays a critical roll in seed dispersal for many types of trees, ensuring the survival of many tree species and the biodiversity of our forest ecosystems.

3. Agoutis are monogamous

Surprising but true - female agoutis tend to choose a male and stay with him without any 'extra-copulation relationships'. Agouti couples tend to stay together to provide security and other benefits. This is why agoutis are often seen in pairs. 

Agoutis will often have a little agouti 'family' with a male, female, and 1-4 offspring. Agouti parents also take care to ensure their young are able to evade predators as soon as possible. 

4. Agoutis communicate with each other

Agoutis often make a series of grunts, squeals, snuffles, and also use body language to communicate with each other, especially to alert others if there is a predator nearby.

Agoutis are often preyed upon by other forest creatures such as snakes, ocelots, owls, and other predators, and are therefore almost always on the alert. They often need safe, concealed habitats where they can quickly retreat if danger is near. 

5. Agoutis may be the most hunted animal in T&T

Agoutis may be the most hunted animal in Trinidad and Tobago, which may adversely affect their sustainability and the health of our ecosystems. 

According to a 2014 Newsday article, a tally from 2012/2013 showed almost 30,000 agoutis had been hunted and killed in one hunting season, not counting the number of unborn agoutis that might have been killed if the female was pregnant.

The Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalists Club called for more controls for the agouti, citing the rise of commercial hunting without bag limits or controls during the closed season.

For more information on our native wildlife or to support, donate, or volunteer with the El Socorro Wildlife Centre for Conservation, visit them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pg/wildlife.tt or visit their website at www.wildliferescuett.org.

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