Living in our South American area of the zoo, we have a group of Patagonian mara. What is a mara, you might be asking? It is quite an unusual looking animal, looking slightly like a miniature deer with the head of a hare. Its back is fairly grey in colour, with a fringe of white towards its rear end, and it has golden brown fur on its front and around its face. Despite being a small animal, it is a very fast runner due to the use of its strong legs. It is also good at digging out burrows to help keep its young hidden away. It is classified into the same family as guinea pigs and capybaras, which are all native to South America.
The mara is a fairly timid animal which would run away from humans or predators. But when it is not threatened, it would spend its day basking in the sun or eating. As it is a herbivore, it only eats vegetation, however it is not fussy about which types because it has to compete with other larger herbivores for food. This, combined with habitat loss and hunting for their skins, means that the mara population is declining.
When a mara is choosing a partner to mate with it needs to pick wisely as they remain with the same partner throughout their entire life. This is a rare trait amongst mammals, as the males usually try to mate with several females to maximise the chances of him fathering multiple young and passing on his genes to them. After mating, the female mara would be pregnant for 90 days, and then give birth in a burrow to usually two babies. The female would leave to burrow during the day to feed, but return when her young need to suckle. As there may be other young mara sharing the same burrow, the mother would call out and her young would respond and be taken aside to be fed away from the group. The male mara would keep a look out and make sure that other mothers do not return to feed their young at the same time, as too many adults around the burrow would draw the attention of predators.
Within our group of mara we have a young baby born this year, so you may be able to spot it from our Treetop Walkway is you are visiting the zoo this winter!