A couple of years after we got them, we had three babies. Unlike many rodents, gibnuts only have one or two babies at a time, and they grow very slowly, not reaching adulthood for a year or more. Then the original male died, but we thought one of the babies was a male, so we just left them in the cage, hoping we would have more babies when the first batch matured. They were mature three or four years ago, and we never had any more babies.
The Belize Zoo has now decided that a captive breeding program is a good idea since the wild gibnut population is dwindling due to overhunting, and they were gifted with a young female found by someone in one of the villages along the Hummingbird Highway. Sharon Matola, director of the Belize Zoo, knew of our gibnuts and asked if we would be willing to donate any of them, especially a male, for this project. Since their goals are the same as our goals, we were delighted to try to help.
Sharon and Berto came out to Moonracer a couple of weeks ago to meet our pack of pacas, and to drop off animal carriers and discuss a strategy to get gibnuts from Moonracer to the Zoo. Since our original females are now pretty old, probably past breeding age, we decided that we would keep them and send the younger ones off to the Zoo, especially Munchkin, the one we thought was a male. We put the animal carriers in the gibnut cage with the doors open, and I started feeding them in the cages. Being relatively tame already, they very quickly started going in the carriers to get food, so I contacted Sharon and Berto and arranged a drop off day at the Zoo, which was just two days ago.
On Tuesday morning, I went out to feed them like normal, but with Tom along as well. This wasn't strange to the gibnuts, because although I usually do the day to day care, when our guests want to see them, Tom is usually the one to take the guests into the cage, and he gives them treats. We positioned ourselves near the carriers, and I put some especially tasty morsels into the carriers. The gibnuts didn't come out immediately, but within about five minutes Scarfy, one of the old females, and then Munchkin, came out of their holes and started taking food from the carriers.
We stayed still and let them nibble their way into two different carriers. Munchkin was closer to me, and when he had three legs in, Tom said "Now!" I slammed the door, and he exploded. Gibnuts can move very fast, and he was not happy. Scarfy disappeared back into one of her holes. We waited a few minutes to let Munchkin calm down and see if any of the others would come out, but although Minchie did get calm, the others were spooked and we didn't see them again.
We loaded the crate in the back of the pickup, and headed for the Zoo.
Munchie was growling every time we checked on him, but seemed okay. When we got to the Zoo, Berto and Tim took the carrier to Munchie's new home, nicknamed the honeymoon suite since he would be sharing it with Cuddles, the young female. The enclosure, not in the public part of the Zoo, was divided so the two gibnuts could get to know each other without fighting. Munchie was happy to get out of the carrier and explore the new enclosure.
Then came the bad news - Berto, who knows more about gibnuts than Tom or I, said he is pretty sure Munchie is a female! Oh no! But, we talked about it, and talked with Sharon, and decided that we would leave her there anyway as part of the program, and still try to catch the other two, who Tom and I are pretty sure are females. That would explain why we never had any babies after the male died.
Before we left the backside of the Zoo, Berto and Tim took us to meet Cuddles, and let us hold her.
That was a great, because we have intentionally not handled ours...we don't want them to be too easy to catch if we ever forget and leave the door unlocked. We were both surprised by how solid Cuddles is, and how bristly her coat is. She didn't seem to mind being held, but after a few good rubs we put her down and went with Berto to enjoy a delicious lunch at the Zoo's cafe.
Our next step is to catch the other youngsters, which could take a bit of effort since they are not as friendly as Munchie. But we will try!