One of the keys to safeguarding the Panama Canal's watershed is the paca, a
popular rodent. Antonio Telesca from the conservation organization ANCON answered questions about efforts to domesticate the paca and other innovative conservation projects in the region. Following the Frontiers special Expedition
Panama: Rat Soup, Antonio answered viewers' questions in an Ask the
Scientists panel. Here are viewers' answers and his answers:
Can you please give us an update on the paca project since this show was
filmed. Are you having success with getting local people to raise these
animals for food.
As background information ANCON began this project in 1990 with 10 adult
animals. The objective is to protect the paca from extinction by offering
it as alternative source of protein to the communities of the canal
watershed -- which are used to hunting the paca instead of raising it . The
results to date are the following:
ANCON agroforestry model has now a total of 60 individuals -- 35
females and 25 males.
In addition, nine local communities are breeding pacas with an average
of one breeding male and three females in each community. The farmers
raise, feed, eat and/or sell the paca.
ANCON has begun the first national association of breeders of wildlife,
with more than 60 persons as members. Half of these individuals are raising
paca around the country, including the above mentioned nine community
On the show you told Alan that you've eaten paca. What does it taste
like? Is it really a popular food with people in Panama?
A. The paca is one of the most delicate and delicious meats that I have
tasted in my life -- let it be known that I have tasted many types of
meats. The taste resembles pork but the taste is softer, and has less fat
As for its popularity, let me tell you that it is one of the animals more
pursued by the hunters. Its meat is the main reason for which it is on the
endangered species list.
There is a scene in the video where you talk to Alan Alda about how fast
the grass can grow. You said "5 inches a day", but it looked like you were
holding your fingers 5 centimeters apart (about 2 inches). Adding to the
confusion, Alan Alda later asked you how high the grass could grow in an
eight month period, and you said "2 or 3 meters", to which Alan
said, "6 to 9 feet?", and you replied yes. So the question I have is this:
Does the grass truly grow 5 inches a day (about 12.5 centimeters), or only
5 *centimeters* (about 2 inches)?
I'm sorry for the confusion, but let me clarify. This grass better known
as "white grass" grows approximately 5 inches per day during its
first two weeks. Then the speed of its growth diminishes. However it can
grow in a year up to 10 meters (30 feet aprox.) including the spike
(flower). During the rainy season alone-- three months -- it can grow up
to 3 meters (9.9 feet). As a caveat let me say that this species, as
non-native to Panama, has not been researched to its full extent in regards
to its behavior in my country.
Are there opportunities to volunteer with ANCON or other groups to help you
in your quest to save the rain forest?
Of course just send a letter to: ANCON Asociacion Nacional para la
Conservacion de la Naturaleza. Volunteer Program. Apartado 1387, Panama 1,
Republica de Panama
Tel. (507) 264-8100. Fax (507) 264-183 Or send an e-mail: Dimas Manuel
Botello Alba firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, if you want to know more about ANCON, please take a look at our web
How did you make the discovery that those bean trees were adequate and
fast enough growing to replace the aggressive grass and correct the rain
We believe that credit for the discovery belongs to the Panamanian farmers
or "campesinos". They have been growing these bean trees for the last 50
years. These bean trees are really important in the diet of the campesinos.
Furthermore the bean trees are very important for the ecology: they fix
nitrogen into the soil, and animals can eat the leaves. If you want to
know more about ANCON, please take a look at our web page: www.ancon.org.
Can you tell us more about the paca. Is it omnivorous? What are its close
relatives in the animal kingdom?
Sure, a brief class of zoology: Class Mammal; Order Rodentia; Family
Dasyproctidae; Scientific Name Agouti paca. Relatives: Rats, rodents and
affinit species. Frugivorous (specific: vegetable, leaves, roots, seeds
Is the Paca used for anything else other than as a food source?
Until now, just as a food source.
How did you get started doing this kind of work in Panama?
Me? Because I love the rain forest, but I think that it is more interesting
if I tell you how ANCON got started. In ANCON we believe in this fact: If
we want protect the national parks and the plants and animals of our rain
forest, we must work with the people that live and depend of the natural
resources ("the campesinos"). We have the obligation to work together and
learn from each other. If you want to know more about ANCON, please take a
look at our web page: www.ancon.org.
Do you think we are making good progress in saving the rain forest regions
in Central America?
I really believe in my work, and I think we are the difference between
losing all the rain forest, and conserving it. But this work is impossible
without your help and the help of the people that believe in ANCON. If you
want to know more about ANCON, please take a look at our web page: www.ancon.org.
What kind of food do pacas eat in the wild? In captivity?
In the wild and in captivity the paca eats almost the same type of food.
It is Frugivorous (specific it eats vegetable, leaves, roots, seeds and
How is the "war against the grass" going?
You found the right word "WAR". And we cannot lose this war.
Every day It is easier to work with the farmers and convince them to
change some of their practices, to help us fight against the grass. But
we know it is still a long way. In the mean time we began to teach
agroforestry practices to the farmers (reforestation with different species
(beans, fruits trees, woods trees, and medicinal plants).
Does your organization have any plans for new projects to help conserve
the rain forest?
We already have different projects all around the country. We basically
If you want to know more about ANCON, please take a look at our web page:
www.ancon.org or: send a letter to:
ANCON Asociacion Nacional para la Conservacion de la Naturaleza. Volunteer
Program. Apartado 1387, Panama 1, Republica de Panama
- Environmental Education (rural and urban)
- Agroforestal Farms
- Ecotourism and Natural Interpretation
- Rural Credit Program
- Protection of National Parks (12)
- Volunteer Program
- Animal Rescue (The Green Line)
- Community Extension for the Sustainable Development
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