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Meet the Critter: Lestat the Giant Jumping Rat

Rats might not be your first pick to visit at the zoo, but Lestat and family are worth the time.

They may look like rabbits, or tiny kangaroos, but this animal is the Madagascar Giant Jumping Rat, 2- to-3-pound cuties found only in a few tiny patches of forest on the west coast of Madagascar (and select zoos, like our very own).

Although looking at Lestat the rat and his famiy might not be top on your list, Prospect Park Zoo director Denise McClean, says they’re not to be missed.

“They’re very cute, they’re very kangaroo-rabbitty looking,” she said. “They’re called jumping rats for a reason: they can jump literally 3 feet straight up."

Although the clan is nocturnal, the zoo keeps them in the a special night section of the “Animals in our Lives Building,” where they keep it dark during the day and light at night, to make sure they’re at least sometimes awake for visitors.

“Unless they’re all sleeping in a little furry huddle, they’re always busy, they’re investigating, they’re grooming, and when they’re grooming they’re always touching each others faces,” she said.

“And they’re very inquisitive, they’ll often come up to the glass and sit up on their hind feet and look at you,” she added. “It’s so cute.”

Like humans, Giant Jumping Rats live in family units with a mother, father and children. And, just like humans (but unlike other rodents), they only have one-to-three babies a year.

Lestat, the dad, has a wife named Vonjy, the mom, who originally hails from a zoo in England. Lestat, comes from the Philadelphia Zoo. At 4 years old, they are both still quite spry.

The kids are Akisha, a girl, and Kliray and Mibitaka, boys, all born in 2009, and twin girls Acorn and Zucchini, born last year along with baby boy Squash.

As you may have noticed, zoo employees often go through phases with names.

Lestat originally came from the Philadelphia Zoo with his brother Armand. “Somebody must have been an Anne Rice fan,” McClean said.

If Lestat lived with his brood in the forests of Madagascar he would be constantly putting himself in danger to keep snakes and other predators away from his kids. Even at the zoo, he spends a lot of time on daddy duties, such as keeping the kids clean, McClean said.

“Males are extremely good dads,” she said.

So despite their rodent background, McClean urges you to pay them a visit.

“I think people’s first reaction is, ‘Oh, eew, rats,” she said. “But once they see how cute they are, and how interesting they are, they really change their opinion.”

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