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Audubon Zoo Welcomes Cavies - Among the World's Largest Rodents

Species resembles a rabbit but is related to guinea pigs and capybara

Audubon Zoo recently welcomed a trio of young Patagonian cavies - one of the largest species of rodent in the world - to the South America habitat near the new Jaguar Jungle exhibit expansion.

The three male cavies, brothers less than a year old, came to Audubon in March from the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Their names are Rick, Daryl and Negan.

Sporting long ears and limbs, the cavy, also known as “Patagonian hare,’’ is sometimes compared to a jackrabbit.

The Audubon Zoo cavy habitat is part of the expanded Jaguar Jungle made possible by the Zemurray Foundation. The expansion also includes a new nocturnal house sponsored by Pan-American Life Insurance Group.

“Audubon Zoo hasn’t had Patagonian cavy since the late 1970s or early 1980s, when the species was bred here. So many of our guests have never seen them,’’ said animal care professional Peter Bibeault. “We’ve only had these boys on exhibit for a short time, but they’ve already been a great conversation starter.’’

Cavy have several natural enemies, including, foxes and birds of prey. Listed as a near-threatened species, the cavy faces other challenges in the wild, including hunting for their pelts, human development encroaching on their habitat and competition for food from larger animals.

As a result, the cavy population has dwindled as much as 30 percent over the last decade. “Their wild populations are in decline, so they’re definitely a species of conservation concern to all of us at Audubon,’’ Bibeault said.

While visitors comment that cavy resemble rabbits, the species is actually closely related to guinea pigs and the capybara, the world’s largest rodent, weighing up to 100 pounds.

The cavy is the fourth-largest rodent in the world. For comparison, Audubon Zoo visitors can check out Audubon Zoo’s capybara across the boardwalk from the cavy.

Native to Argentina, cavy can weigh up to 20 pounds. They are herbivores, spending much of their time munching on vegetation and fruit. They are found across South America, in open areas from moist savanna to thorn forests or scrub desert.

Cavy typically breed from August to January. For now, there will be no offspring for Audubon Zoo’s bachelor group. In the wild, breeding pairs are monogamous. The young are weaned and on their own after about three months.

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Audubon Nature Institute

Audubon Nature Institute operates a family of museums, parks and research facilities dedicated to celebrating the wonders of nature. Through innovative live animal exhibits, education programs, and scientific discovery, Audubon makes a meaningful contribution to preserving wildlife for the future. Audubon Nature Institute flagships include Audubon Park, Audubon Zoo, Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, Entergy Giant Screen Theater, Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, Audubon Louisiana Nature Center, Freeport-McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center, Woldenberg Riverfront Park and Audubon Wilderness Park. Ron Forman is President and CEO of Audubon Nature Institute.