A highly unusual animal has been bred at Chester Zoo, boosting the European population of the endangered species.
The giant jumping rat is a large, nocturnal rodent which conservation experts say is threatened with extinction in the near future because of habitat loss, introduced disease and predation by feral dogs.
The new youngster, whose sex is still unknown, was born in July to mum Rokoto but has only now started to venture out from its nest.
It is the first time the zoo has bred the species.
Keepers at Chester Zoo hope that the charming new arrival will help change perceptions about the charismatic animal – which has traits similar to those of a kangaroo – and in turn boost public support for conservation efforts.
Giant jumping rats are only found on the island of Madagascar – and as a result have evolved with unique attributes possessed by no other species of rat.
The species – which can grow to the size of a small dog – only jumps on very rare occasions but has the spectacular ability to leap almost one metre into the air.
They are now restricted to a tiny part of the country’s western coast and are listed as endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN’s) Red List of Threatened Species.
Also known as Malagasy jumping rats, they form lifelong monogamous pairs, unlike other rodents. They reproduce very slowly, normally only having two babies a year. As their name suggests, their back feet are adapted for jumping and are large in comparison to their front feet.
As well as being part of a carefully managed breeding programme, working to establish a healthy safety-net population of the endangered rats in Europe, Chester Zoo is also actively working in Madagascar to help protect the forests where the animals live.
Working with conservation partner Madagasikara Voakajy, much of the zoo’s work is focused on engaging local communities and persuading them that the forests – and the wildlife that live there – are worth protecting.