IUCN threat status:

Least Concern (LC)

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Chacoan mara or salt desert cavy (Dolichota salinicola)

The Chacoan mara occurs in the Chaco of Paraguay, northwest Argentina as far south as Cordoba Province and the southernmost portion of Bolivia. It occurs at elevations @ 400-800 m above sea level in Bolivia. It occurs in the arid Chaco and is typically found in dry, low, flat thorn scrub, but also may be found in grasslands and dry thorny forests. It probably lives in primary and secondary habitat.

It is a relatively large caviid and resembles a rabbit due to its long, thin legs, moderately large, broad, pointed ears and long, stout vibrissae. It weighs 1.8-2.3 kg and ranges from 420-485 mm in head-body length with their tail adding 19-30 mm. The large hind feet measure 91-130 mm and have nails rather than claws at the end of each digit. The ears range from 58-64 mm long. The pelage is short and smooth, with brownish gray to darker gray, lightly speckled fur on the back. The sides are typically lighter in color, ranging from dark gray to white, and the neck and abdomen are white. There are white patches on the foreheads and behind their eyes. Juveniles may have reddish-yellow coloration mixed in with the gray on the backs. They lack a third colour on their flanks, as found on adults.

It lives in groups of up to four. It digs large burrows to sleep in at night. The burrows have extensive piles of dirt outside the entrances. The coloration of its pelage helps camouflage it from predators and it often tries to evade predators by outrunning them. Maras communicate through scent. Captives may saturate a site with their urine and anal gland secretions. Those sites become their preferred locations for sandbathing as they provide all members of the group with the same scent. Individuals also urinate on one another to share their scent. The maras make various vocalizations, many being very similar to those made by Patagonian maras. When approached by conspecific rival, they may emit a prolonged wheet that generally drops to a low intensity grunt. The home range varies from 33.3 to 197.5 ha, with a mean of 97.9 ha (1).

The mara primarily forages on leaves and forbs in the rainy season, but also consumes woody plants, grasses, fruits seeds, and succulent species such as cacti and bromeliads, especially in the dry season. It eats nearly any available vegetation. As a common herbivore in the eastern Salta province, the mara may live in high densities and have a significant impact on the local environment. This may include overgrazing and destroying seedlings, which prevent the forest regeneration. It they may be an important seed disperser and is an important prey species for several predators, including jaguars, pumas and pampas foxes. It is host to a parasitic tick.

Apart from activities related to reproduction, females and males little to no contact with one another. Even during oestrus, females may resist or withdraw from males. Females give birth to 1-5 young after @ 2 months or 77 days under the protection of thorn bush or other dense vegetation in secluded areas. Pups weigh @ 199 g at birth. They are precocial and can run at high speeds a few hours later and follow adults a few days later. They produce a “wheet” call when following and a “whine” when threatening conspecifics. In order to quickly acquire their natal group's scent, pups often roll around at the group’s urination site shortly after birth; scent marking and play help integrate juveniles into the social unit. There is little physical contact between adults and juveniles. Females nurse their young in a sitting posture in open, exposed for bouts lasting @ 5 minutes. Males generally do not participate in parental care, but seem to tolerate young and may rest and occasionally play with juveniles. Weaning begins around four weeks old.

The Red List Category is "Least Concern" due to the mara's wide distribution, presumed large population and as it is unlikely to be declining fast enough to qualify for listing in a threatened category.

There are no known major threats. The mara occurs in protected areas within Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay. It is common where it is found. It has no known adverse effects on humans. It is a popular game animal throughout itsr geographic range. Indigenous hunters exploit it for food and for its pelt.


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