Monkey Forest Tales: Some notes about river otters, squirrels, agoutis and capybaras

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Capybara’s footprint.

This is the last post in a series of posts about other mammals living in the study area. Today’s post is about river otters, squirrels, agoutis, and capybaras.

River otters, a medium-sized mammal that depends on rivers and small streams to feed and move. They are well adapted to moving in the water as their feet had a membrane between their fingers that help them swim.

We had seen them in the streams close to farmhouses. They feed on fish and small crustaceans living in fast-flowing rivers and streams. Usually seen very close or in the water. They are scarce in the region. Although we saw a couple of individuals that seem to be permanent residents of one of the streams for several years and then disappear.

They are not hunted in the area and most farmers don’t pay much attention to them. Contamination of watercourses, deforestation as well as some agro-industrial practices such as deviation of natural watercourses are some of the threats for this amazing animal.

Squirrels in the area are not very common, although, in the last five years, they have been seen in forest fragments where they were not found in the previous decade. They are small-sized mammals, very agile and good climbers. They feed on seeds and fruits. Usually, we found them alone with only a few occasions in which we saw two individuals moving together. People in the area don’t pay much attention to them.

Agoutis are medium size rodents, highly appreciated by their meat by local people. It is illegal hunting them but there are reports of meat from agoutis sold in the town at around $15000 per meat pound in 2014. They are solitary and nocturnal rodents, mainly found in the biggest forest of the study area. They eat insects, seeds and fruits.

Capybaras are the biggest rodents in South America. There are still present in some farms in the study area, but they are less common than in Casanare and Arauca department in the Colombian Llanos. They live in big groups near to swamps, lakes and riverine forest. In the study area, we have seen footprints, tracks, and feces close to some rivers and lakes. Few individuals have been reported by local people.

Highly appreciated by their meat by local people, although illegal. There have been some efforts to reduce their illegal hunting by implementing captive colonies, but information about it is limited. Under the national laws is still illegal to sell and marketing capybara’s meat there requires special permits that need to be done by the environmental authorities, although is still common in some areas of the country.

For the mammals mentioned in this post, their main threats are deforestation and illegal hunting. Illegal hunting is especially strong for agouties and capybaras.

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