Allegheny Woodrats Helping Save Their Species

On June 14, the Wildlife Center admitted nine Allegheny Woodrats, a species of pack rat native to the Appalachian Mountains. The woodrats had been captured at a property just south of Roanoke by Dr. Karen Powers and her research team from Radford University; they were admitted to the Center for a health assessment so that they could be transported out of state for an important purpose: to help save their species.

The Allegheny Woodrat is a medium-sized rat with prominent ears, large eyes, and a long tail that is slightly less than half the length of their body. They were once quite common throughout the Eastern United States, but a century of population decline has left the woodrat threatened or even endangered in many states. The sharp decline can be attributed to several factors, including the spread of raccoon roundworm, the massive decline in American Chestnuts, which long acted as a reliable food source for the species, and habitat fragmentation and destruction connected to human activity. 

Nine Allegheny Woodrats in HavaHart traps and aquarium enclosures sitting on top of a counter.In Virginia, though, the Allegheny Woodrat population is relatively stable, which is why DWR and Center staff are working together to send these woodrats to other states where the population is at risk. 

On admission, all nine of the Allegheny Woodrats were observed to be bright, alert, and feisty, and they were deemed healthy by the Center's veterinary team. Center staff provided supportive care for the woodrats while DWR worked with the Pennsylvania Game Commission to find placement for them at locations such as the Toledo Zoo, Maryland Zoo, and ZooAmerica, where they will be part of breeding programs for eventual release in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and possibly Indiana to help boost the population.

This breeding program not only carries hope for the rebound of Allegheny Woodrats but also for the habitats where they are found. Allegheny Woodrats most often inhabit rocky terrain, and they play an important ecological role by dispersing seeds, increasing soil fertility with their fecal matter, and providing habitat for other animals such as rodents, reptiles, and amphibians. If the breeding program is successful, it can have widespread benefits for many animals, not just the woodrats. 

On June 24, an officer from the Pennsylvania Game Commission arrived at the Wildlife Center to pick up the woodrats and transport them to their new homes. Stay tuned for more information on these woodrats' travels!