Nature's busy farmer

The small animal enclosure is the kitchen drawer of the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo. It houses all the odd beasts that don't fit in anywhere else but are interesting enough to hold on to anyway. From things that swim to those that slither, the enclosure has them all and among the most curious is Gittel the agouti. Gittel is a South American agouti whose natural habitat is the rain forest. About the size of a large cat, Gittel defies further description. According to section head of the small animal enclsoure Aliza Roman, visitors say Gittel looks like a cross between a pig, a mouse, a kangaroo and a cat. In fact, the three-year-old animal is a rodent, yet it is not her shape that makes the agouti so curious but rather her eating habits. Gittel spends much of her time planting nuts in the ground of her display area apparently in the hope that they will grow. In the wild, agoutis gather Brazil nuts that have fallen to the jungle floor and then diligently bury them in carefully selected locations. Some of the nuts are later recovered and eaten but others are left to grow into new trees. Although Gittel lives indoors and has her meals served to her every day, old habits linger. The small mammal can often be found busily sowing food in the floor. Each nut is gathered up and planted in a different spot and then later recovered to eat or abandoned to take root. Since the ground beneath her paws is barely half a meter thick and Brazil nut trees grow to over 30 meters tall, it is just as well that Gittel's diet consists of peanuts, walnuts and vegetables rather than the hard-to-obtain nuts. Nonetheless, Roman often finds that some of the peanuts take root and must be "weeded" out. Agoutis are solitary animals that pair up only for mating and then go back to the single life. Once upon a time Gittel had a male agouti to keep her company but the couple fought and were separated. (Her partner later met an untimely end in the jaws of a poisonous snake elsewhere in the zoo.) Gittel is happy on her own with a pair of small Tamarin monkeys to keep her company. Because the two species live at different heights, the rodent on the ground and the monkeys higher up in the branches above, they are successful roommates. Gittel's only concern is the occasional unwelcome shower when her upstairs neighbors relieve themselves. However, Gittel's horticultural efforts are not entirely in vain. In a pot in her office, Roman now has a peanut tree growing that was planted by farmer Gittel.