Puerto Rican Hutia
(Isolobodon portoricensis)
EX
Overview
The Puerto Rican hutia was an important food source for the Amerindians for thousands of years, and survived until at least the arrival of early European explorers – Christopher Columbus and his crew are believed to have eaten the species on several occasions. The species declined following European colonization of the West Indies. It is unclear whether it survived for long after the early introduction of black rats by the first European settlers around AD 1500, although it may have been finally wiped out by introduced mongooses in the nineteenth or early 20th century. Although commonly regarded as extinct, some researchers hold out hopes that the species still survives in undisturbed refuges.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Distribution
Hispaniola, Mona Island, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.
Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Rodentia
Family: Capromyidae
The hutia family (Capromyidae) is restricted to the West Indies, and is most closely related to the spiny rats (Echimyidae) and the coypu (Myocastor coypus) of mainland South America. It contains 13 living species in 6 genera. The family was considerably more diverse in the recent past, with up to 30 other species having died out during the historical and recent prehistory (the last 5,000 years) as a result of a series of human impacts on the environment from the time of first Amerindian arrival in the region. Although the ancient fossil record is poor, capromyids are thought to have been present in the West Indies since the Oligocene (26-38 million years ago). The Puerto Rican hutia is thought to be most closely related to Plagiodontia aedium, the Hispaniolan hutia, and more distantly to the hutias (Capromys and Geocapromys) of Cuba, the Bahamas and Jamaica. A second species of Hispaniolan Isolobodon, I. montanus, is now considered to be extinct. A third species, I. levir, was formerly recognised from Hispaniola, but is now interpreted as being conspecific with I. portoricensis.
Description
Size: 
Unknown.
Weight: 1.5 kg
A large rodent, resembling a guinea pig. Hutias generally have a robust body, a broad head with relatively small eyes and ears,and short limbs. The fur of hutias is generally brownish or greyish in colouration.
Ecology
Virtually nothing is known about the ecology of this species. Other hutias are generally nocturnal and at least partially arboreal, and their diets include a variety of vegetation and some small animals such as lizards. The Puerto Rican hutia may have been an important prey species of the extinct barn owl (Tyto ostolaga).
Habitat
Unknown.
Distribution
The species has an unusually wide distribution in the West Indies. It was probably native to Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), but was transported to other islands by the early Amerindians for food. The type locality is Puerto Rico, and the species is also known from Amerindian middens on Vieques Island, Mona Island, and the Virgin Islands (St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix).
Population Estimate
Unknown. Possibly extinct.
Status
Classified as Critically Endangered (CR B1+2c) on the 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. However, this species is commonly believed to be extinct.
Threats
The reasons for the decline of this species are unknown, but probably attributable to a combination of predation and competition by introduced mammals and habitat destruction. Hutia remains are very abundant in archaeological kitchen middens, indicating that the species formed an important part of the pre-Columbian Amerindian diet. Evidence suggests that it may have been kept in captivity by the Amerindians and transported to other islands as a food source.

Radiocarbon dating indicates that this hutia survived at least until Europeans first arrived in the Caribbean about 500 years ago. However, numerous alleged sightings from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries indicate that it may have persisted in small numbers until the introduction of the mongoose to the region between 1870 and 1900. There have been reports of hutia sightings from Puerto Rico as recently as the 1960s, although these reports have never been confirmed. Some researchers hold out hope that the species survives to this day in remote, undisturbed refuges.
Conservation Underway
A comprehensive survey was conducted in 1985 on the basis of reports of the species from Ile de la Tortue, Haiti and Puerto Rico. Despite extensive searches in the remote areas of these islands, the expedition team found no evidence of the continued existence of the species. They concluded that reports of the species were based on the misidentification of other mammals on the islands. Indeed, many local people now use the name ‘hutia’ when referring to introduced mongooses.
Conservation Proposed
A comprehensive survey of all possible sites where the species might still survive needs to be undertaken to see if a remnant population of this hutia still exists.
References
American Museum of Natural History Bestiary

Baillie, J. 1996. Isolobodon portoricensis. In: IUCN 2006. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 09 August 2006.

Brooke Garner. 2002. On the Possible Prehistoric Domestication of the Caribbean hutia, Isolobodon Portoricensis. In Journal of Undergraduate Research Vol 6(9).

Fleming, C. and MacPhee, R. D. E. 1999. Redetermination of Holotype of Isolobodon portoricensis (Rodentia, Capromyidae), with Notes on Recent Mammalian Extinctions in Puerto Rico. In American Museum Novitates 3278(11): 1-11.

Nowak, R.M. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Sixth edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.

Woods, C. and Ottenwalder, J. A. 1992. The Natural History of Southern Haiti. Florida Museum of Natural History.

Woods, C.A., Ottenwalder J. A. and Oliver W. L. R. 1985. Lost Mammals of the Greater Antilles: The summarised findings of a ten weeks field survey in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Puerto Rico.

Distribution map based on data provided by the IUCN Global Mammal Assessment.

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