Species Profile: Austral Mountain Vizcacha
By Erin Knight (University of Vermont)
The Austral Mountain Vizcacha (Lagidium wolffsohni), relative to the Chinchilla, is best characterized as a chubby, fluffy, rabbit-sized rodent with long think fur, long ears, and large black eyes. The vizcachas of the Chacobuco Valley live in colonies in boulder fields at the base of large cliff faces. They are diurnal and spend most of their day sunbathing on the steep cliff faces. They feed exclusively on plant matter. Females give birth to a single offspring once a year. Their natural predators include foxes and pumas. Although they are protected in Chile, vizcachas are a vulnerable species; due to illegal hunting, their numbers have been dramatically reduced in central and southern Chile.
This semester, conducting vizcacha surveys has been a main focus of our field work. We have completed over 25 surveys including documenting sightings and the presence of scat. During a typical vizcacha survey, we first scan the cliff faces from afar for any individuals. Next we hike up to check the base of the cliff for any scat or sign, and then hike further up while thoroughly scanning the crevices and fissures of the cliff face. We have only seen one or two viscachas at a time, but their colonies can consist of up to 20 individuals. During one survey we were lucky enough to stumble upon a current vizcaha den in a boulder field cave with mountains of scat inside.