What is an Agouti, you ask? I found myself wondering the exact same thing when I was invited to come along to watch Taronga’s youngest resident, ‘Rio’, get introduced to what will become her new home once she has matured: an outdoor exhibit at Taronga’s Education Centre.
Baby Rio, who at the time of writing is a mere seven days old, is the first Brazilian Agouti to be hand-raised at Taronga in a whopping 22 years. Her Mum unfortunately passed away just after she was born, so our Zoo Keepers swung in to action to ensure her survival. The itsy-bitsy 167-gram Rio is astounding everyone who encounters her – especially Keeper Simon Brown, who has taken up the hefty responsibility of hand-raising her over the past six days.
“She’s like a little Disney character”, Simon laughs as Rio tries to scamper up his jumper. And he’s right – this Agouti cutie definitely looks like a fantastic creature dreamed-up by someone with a wild imagination. She has a fuzzy brown, mouse-like body with a stumpy pink tail hidden beneath her fur on one end, and an adorable squishy almost wombat-like face on the other. She’s also sporting what looks a lot like a Mohawk hairstyle, because the hair on the top of her head is longer than that covering rest of her body. But if you think this means she’s got a bad attitude to match, you couldn’t be more wrong. Simon describes Rio’s disposition as incredibly sweet and easy-going: “She’s very friendly and loves interacting with her Keepers”, he says.
As a Brazilian Agouti, Rio is technically a member of the rodent family, but unlike a rat or a mouse, she has mismatched digits on her front and back claws: five toes on her shorter front-legs and three toes on her longer hind-legs. Her legs themselves are also very thick and strong compared to her tiny figure, and she’s already putting them to good use.
It’s not until after Simon has transported Rio to her future home at the Taronga Ed Centre and opened the door for her to begin exploring this new outdoor terrain that the close bond between the two of them becomes clear. Rio is obviously excited, but every time she ventures off to sniff some grass or to nuzzle some leaves, she immediately races back to Simon like a boomerang, scurrying all over him for reassurance.Squeaking like a fluffy toy and bouncing excitedly up in her nest, Rio looks like a furry brown jumping bean. According to Simon, this is very normal behaviour for an Agouti, with adults of the species being known to jump as high as 1.8 meters! “She’s not nervous at all. You can tell she’s keen for adventure and ready to explore her new environment,” Simon explains.
Not to go all mushy on you, but if you were there, you couldn’t have held in your “Awwwwww!” ’s even if you were the kind of person who sports a Mohawk with a bad attitude to match.
At the time of writing, Rio has just been bottle-fed on her milk supplement and has settled down for a nap with her soft toy wombat (which absolutely dwarfs her) after a very exciting adventure exploring the outside world. Over the coming weeks, Simon will continue taking her back to visit her outdoor enclosure until she is comfortable enough and mature enough to move there permanently, where she will live happily as an ambassador for her exotic species. And, no doubt, continue delighting all who encounter her with her Disney-cartoon level of cuteness.
- Emma McKinnon