The Small Mammal Specialist Group welcomes its first small mammal PhD student to study the Jamaican hutia

18 April 2024



Durrell is proud to support the IUCN’s Small Mammal Specialist Group (SMSG), promoting the protection of vulnerable small mammals across the globe. SMSG is a global network of scientists and conservationists working to enable a better scientific understanding of the world’s 3,200+ species of small mammals and to promote the conservation of those which are most threatened. Along with the Zoological Society of London’s EDGE programme, Durrell will be a partner on a new PhD by Jennifer Panitz to study the Jamaican hutia, known locally as a Coney or Grazie, offering industry training and support. 

An endemic species, the Jamaican hutia is a rabbit-sized nocturnal rodent and is the only remaining non-flying mammal on the island. An endangered species, their threats are poorly understood but it is thought that habitat loss and hunting are major risks, as well as likely predation by introduced dogs, cats, and mongoose. 

Durrell previously housed Jamaican hutias at Jersey Zoo from 1972. After a few years of learning how to care for them, collecting vital information about their ecology and husbandry needs, an impressive 700 were bred between 1975 and 1984.  



Many of these hutias then formed part of a reintroduction project in Jamaica in 1986. Unfortunately, following a survey, it was determined that very few of the released individuals had survived, perhaps due to high levels of threats to the species in the area. 

The PhD research will use multiple approaches to study the ecology and conservation needs for the species, including how hutias interact with forest and agricultural land, using ancient DNA work to understand the changing genetics, and community-based research to understand people's knowledge and attitudes towards hutias.