Agoutis are like squirrels, only cuter

I taught summer camp for many years at a park with lots of birds, beetles, lizards, and deer. And ground squirrels. Enough ground squirrels that it felt like at least one was always in sight, and on any given patch of grass there would be two or three or twenty. They dug around in the grass, chased each other up trees, and chattered obnoxiously. These squirrels were unafraid of people, and consequently constant pests: we had to keep the kids’ lunches closed up in boxes at all times so they wouldn’t steal any of them, and I chased squirrels away from our group at every meal time.

To me, they were drab, dull, and annoying. But to the kids, these squirrels were AWESOME. Every squirrel we passed on a trail was a new discovery, to be exclaimed over and talked about. Furthermore, a squirrel approaching the group wasn’t a pest, it was funny. So, so funny, as it skittered around, shuffled forward, or dodged away. We saw a lot of other interesting wildlife, but those squirrels were always in favor.

I just couldn’t understand the appeal.

Yesterday, a couple of us went on a walk around Gamboa. I saw well-preserved old houses, a few leafcutter ants, beautiful views of the tropical treetops, a couple vultures, and many smaller birds. It was hot and sunny and really pretty. As we headed back, we saw a medium-sized rodent, called an agouti, standing on someone’s grass. It dug around in the grass, and ate something it found there. And it was so cool! We stood there for a couple minutes, entranced by the way it looked, the way it moved, and just how calm it was around us.

That evening I realized that if I had grown up with agoutis all over the place, this one would have been just an ordinary rodent, looking for food. I think this is one of my favorite things about traveling to new places: the little differences that open our eyes to all of the amazing things we take for granted, and the chance to drop any jaded reaction and look at our surroundings like kids, excited by everything we see.

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