MAMMALIAN SPECIES N0. 404, pp. H, 3 ﬁg. Agouti paca.
Domestication and husbandry of the paca (Agouti paca). 1995. FAO Conservation Guide No. 26. Rome, FAO. In line with FAO's mandate to assist countries in achieving food security, in which forest resources play a significant role, the Forestry Department is working to document and spread technical expertise on the domestication of wildlife species which can have a real impact on improving food availability to rural dwellers throughout the world. An excellent candidate for such domestication is the paca (Agouti paca), which is native to Latin American lowland forests from southern Mexico to southern Brazil. Because of the highly preferred meat of the paca, local people in many countries of Latin America have attempted for many years to raise it in captivity, but this has not proved to be practical because pacas normally live only in pairs, are naturally aggressively territorial and extremely socially intolerant. Moreover, they have a low reproductive rate so, with the need for a separate cage for each reproductive female, there has been little hope that, even though they will breed in captivity, the endeavour will be economically feasible. An experimental programme to domesticate pacas was carried out at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama between 1983 and 1990. By taking advantage of a critical-period learning phenomenon (similar to "imprinting") that occurs in infant pacas, it has been possible to alter their socialization process completely so that they are changed in one generation into social, easily handled, "domesticated" animals. The young born in groups of experimentally socialized pacas learn the behaviour of their parents and do not revert to that of their wild antecedents. Their reproductive potential is still low but, because they can be kept in mixed sex groups, the economy of paca raising has been greatly improved. This document presents information in a step-by-step format that will allow easy replication of the domestication process that was successful in the Smithsonian programme. In this respect, it will be of primary value to resource managers in Latin America; however, it could also be of value to technicians in Africa where the grasscutter (Thryonomys swinderianus) occupies a similar ecological and nutritional niche to the paca in Latin America.