Little Swan Island hutia

Discovery of two previously unrecorded Little Swan Island hutia specimens at RAMM

Discovery of two previously unrecorded  Little Swan Island hutia specimens at RAMM

Following a visit to RAMM in early 2013 I received a list of specimens that may have arrived at the museum from zoological gardens in the UK. This included two specimens of the Little Swan Island hutia (Geocapromys thoracatus) listed as being donated by Primley Zoo (now known as Paignton Zoo Environmental Park) in 1939/40.

The Little Swan Island hutia became extinct in the 1950s due to the introduction of non-native predators such as cats and a particularly strong hurricane in 1955. Just 29 specimens of this species were known to exist in museums: 17 in the USA and 12 at the Natural History Museum, London. The two at RAMM had not previously been recorded.

RAMM hutia 28/1939/4

28/1939/4. Male. Mount, with skull embedded. Received 21 March 1939

RAMM hutia 1/1940/1

1/1940/1. Male. Study skin, without skull, SVL 317 mm, tail 47 mm. Received 02 Jan 1940

On a subsequent visit to the Museum in June 2013 I was able to examine the listed specimens and to confirm that they were, indeed, G. thoracatus. Both specimens are in excellent condition and conform in every way with the descriptions of the species given in Morgan (1989).

These two specimens apparently originate from a failed attempt at captive management by Primley Zoo’s founder Herbert Whitley in the 1930s. Unfortunately Whitley’s written records from that era have not survived, if indeed they ever existed, so we have no independent corroboration that this was indeed the case.

The discovery of these two specimens is a good example of the value of zoological gardens and breeding centres ensuring that post mortem specimens are deposited in recognised museums so that they can be properly preserved for posterity. It remains possible that further specimens of G. thoracatus originating from the same importation may be preserved in other regional museums in the United Kingdom.

The complete paper, Additions to the hypodigm of the extinct Swan Island Hutia (Geocapromys thoracatus, Capromyidae; Rodentia), has been published in the Caribbean Journal of Science, Vol. 48, No. 1, 63-65, 2014

Simon Tonge, Executive Director, Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust