Your Local Rat’s Cute Cuban Cousin

by Erica Goode

The Cuban hutia (Capromys pilorides), a button-nosed, furry rodent the size of a dachshund, is said to be  shy by nature.

But the hutias we met on a small mangrove-covered cay during an expedition to Jardines de la Reina, an archipelago off Cuba’s south coast, seemed more the social butterfly type – probably because they live a protected marine preserve.

They greeted us when our skiff reached the beach, and were happy to stick around for a drink. While some might see them as oversized rats, these hutias were pretty cute…

(read more: NY Times)

photograph by Todd Heisler

Held Captive

Photograph by Paul Hilton

Undercover investigators confiscate an infant male orphan illegally held by wildlife traders in the Babahrot, a small village on the outskirts of the Tripa peat forest, in June 2012.

PhotographerPaul Hilton and SOCP members had discovered the animal when they posed as tourists interested in buying a pet orangutan. (See pictures of wild orangutans in National Geographic magazine.)

When SOCP later returned to the house with police, they failed to find the young animal. It took days of pressuring and threats of punishment to persuade the traders to bring him in. When the traders finally complied, police warned them of the possible penalties if they were caught again.

The malnourished juvenile, later named Chocolate, had been fed only rice and had been captured after his mother was beaten to death—a common tactic used by traders to make mothers release their babies.

“Since 1970, when rescue and rehab really started, numbers of illegal pets are as high as ever,” Singleton said. He added it would only take a few days to find a trader ready to sell an illegally captured orangutan.

“There aren’t hundreds of [wildlife traders], but there are always a few and they are known by communities. And word gets around.”