Around 1940 two specimens of the Swan Island hutia (Geocapromys thoracatus) were donated to RAMM. They had once been inmates at Primley Zoo (now Paignton Zoo). One specimen has featured on RAMM’s trading cards: a card any player would be lucky to have as the specimen is ‘very rare’. In fact this species is now extinct.
It was not until recently that RAMM fully appreciated just how rare it is to have a Swan Island hutia in the collection. In 1989 the American Society of Mammalologists published a paper stating that only 12 specimens have been recorded in UK museums – all of them at the Natural History Museum in London. When Simon Tonge, Paignton Zoo’s Executive Director, learned of the existence of RAMM’s hutia he wrote a paper for the Caribbean Journal of Science to let the scientific community know that they exist. The paper was published in October 2014.
Why are they so rare? This species of hutia was only found on Little Swan Island – a very remote limestone island in the Caribbean just two square kilometres in size. The Swan Island hutia was not even found on Great Swan Island just 500 meters away. It was once prolific but the introduction of goats that competed with the hutia for food, and cats that treated the huita as food lead to its demise. In 1955 the island was in the path of hurricane Janet, one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record, and no one has seen a hutia on the island since. Sadly this rodent is now considered to be extinct.