Have you ever thought about taking a trip to Patagonia in South America? The Patagonian Desert is the fourth largest desert in the world. Some of the animals living there also live in El Paso, including the Burrowing Owl and mountain lion. Others like Patagonian hare and Guanaco are found only in Patagonia.
If heading to the Patagonian steppe of Argentina and Chile is not on your bucket list, consider the America Lands Exhibit at the El Paso Zoo. For many years the Zoo has featured animals of South America on the south side of the Americas Lands Exhibit across the Animals of the Spanish Explorers exhibit.
Mixed species exhibits are featured in our zoo as often as possible to help our guests better imagine the habitats where our animals are from. In the South Americas Lands section we have guanacos, Patagonian hares and a capybara.
The Patagonian hare or mara looks like a long-legged rabbit that leaps like a kangaroo. A closer look at its teeth reveals that it is more closely related to a guinea pig and as a result is classified as a rodent. Patagonian hares live solitary lives except during the breeding season when up to 15 pairs will raise their young together at dens and the babies clump together to stay warm. A number of Patagonian hares have been born at the El Paso Zoo. In the wild, they live in lowland habitats dominated by creosote bush, a common shrub of the Chihuahuan Desert in El Paso and in the Monte Desert of Argentina.
Here in North America camels became extinct during the Ice Ages, but they still survive today in South America. American camel species include llamas, vicunas, alpacas and the guanacos that we have here at the Zoo. The guanaco is the tallest of the four North America camel species standing up to 5 feet 9 inches. Their natural predator is the mountain lion, the same big cat that survives here in the Franklin Mountains. Guanaco populations have decreased dramatically over the past 100 years and they are now protected by hunting quotas in Argentina, Chile and Peru. Of the four camel species in South America, two are totally domesticated and raised largely for their wool, the llama and alpaca.
Capybaras are related to the squirrels and desert mice living in El Paso, but can weigh up to 150 pounds! These semi-aquatic mammals from South America live in groups of up to 100 individuals. They are excellent swimmers and will mate only in the water. In Venezuela, they are raised on farms for their meat. In some areas where fish is too expensive or not available, the Catholic Church allows people in Venezuela to eat capybara during Lent. They are hunted for their fur and meat and in some areas are severely threatened.