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Strange non-native animal identified after sightings at Lakewood's Bear Creek Lake Park

Patagonian Mara at Bear Creek Lake Park.jpg
Posted at 11:28 AM, Jul 03, 2024

LAKEWOOD, Colo. — An odd-looking animal not native to Colorado has been reported in Bear Creek Lake Park, and officials are now planning what's next for the critter.

Both Amber Thill, operations manager for the City of Lakewood's Community Resources Department, and Kara Van Hoose with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) said their departments received multiple reports about the animal from both rangers and park visitors.

Patagonia Mara in lakewood.jpeg

They believe the animal is a Patagonian mara, which are native to central and southern Argentina, and are sometimes called Patagonian cavies or Patagonian hares, according to Zoo Atlanta, which houses two of the animals.

They resemble capybaras, which is one of their closest relatives, and are not harmful to people.

It's not clear if the park is currently home to one Patagonian mara or multiple, Van Hoose said.

Hill said based on visitor-submitted video, one of the — or the sole — Patagonian maras in the park was most likely a pet, as it did not seem afraid of people. However, people should not approach the animal and if it comes toward a person, they should move away.

Strange non-native animal identified after sightings at Lakewood's Bear Creek Lake Park

Patagonian maras are long-legged rodents with long ears, short tails and long legs that help them reach speeds up to 35 mph.

"The general form of Patagonian maras is that of a long-legged rodent with a body similar to a hoofed animal," the Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute said.

They typically have gray or brown coats, with a white patch on the chest and orange coloration around the head, according to the National Zoo. Patagonian maras are about 27 inches long and weigh between 17 and 35 pounds. They tend to prefer grasslands and brushy areas that have plenty of open space, according to the zoo. The animals mostly eat grasses, cacti, flowers, fruits and seeds.

Patagonia Mara in lakewood2.jpeg

"Our protocol is to work with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, who will safely capture and relocate the mara to a new home," Hill said. "CPW is currently working on identifying a home."

CPW is in discussions with the Denver Zoo Conservation Alliance and Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, which both have Patagonian mara exhibits, to see if they could possibly take in additional animals, Van Hoose said.

She said CPW officials have been out in the area of the park setting live capture traps. The traps have apples, cantaloupes, wheat thins, sweet potatoes, lettuce and a lure at one end and if an animal enters it, a spring door shuts, trapping the animal inside without causing it harm. CPW will check the crate every few hours, Van Hoose said.

CPW is reminding park visitors to always stay on trails and not search for the traps.

If anybody sees the Patagonian mara, contact the Bear Creek Lake Park Visitors Center at 303-697-6159 or CPW at 303-297-1192.

Colorado wildlife law generally prohibits the live possession of native and exotic wildlife, according to CPW.

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