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Malagasy Giant Jumping Rat

Malagasy Giant Jumping Rat It’s Rodent Week: The largest rodent in Madagascar, the Malagasy giant jumping rat might be mistaken for a rabbit, hopping around the dry tropical forest floor on its hind legs and living in burrows underground. But like so many of this island nation’s unique, endemic creatures, the giant jumping rat, or Votsovotsa, is threatened. The rat is described as endangered on the IUCN Red List, and its remaining habitat along the island’s west coast has been split into two dwindling and isolated patches by deforestation and development. Its total range now covers a mere 77 square miles, and a related species went extinct several thousand years ago. The population has been driven to historic lows, probably below 8,000, by feral dogs, and a recent study predicted that the species would be extinct in the wild within 24 years unless measures were taken to stop it. In 1990, however, Gerald Durrell began a captive-breeding program with five individuals. The giant jumping rats are monogamous, staying with their mates for life, or until a mate is lost to a predator, often a fossa (a cat-like member of the civet family, also endemic to Madagascar) or a Madagascar ground boa: The rats routinely block up the entrances to their burrows with dirt and leaves to discourage entrance by snakes or other predators. In captivity, however, they have done well. In addition to the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, there are now a dozen institutions with successful captive-breeding programs. An excellent place to see the species in Madagascar is Kirindy, a protected area and research center on the western coast. For more on this distinctive rat, see “The Giant Jumping Rat, Another Peculiarity from Madagascar,” by Rhett Butler of Mongabay.
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