Paca is their formal name, however, the Paca has many other names too, depending on their regional location. In Belize the Paca is most often referred to as the Gibnut. Interestingly though, Belize has yet another name for the Paca: the ‘Queen’s Rat’ or the ‘Royal Rat of Belize.’ The name Queen’s Rat or Royal Rat of Belize is not anything against Her Majesty, the name was derived when she was served this highly prized delicatessen on one of her trips to Belize.
There are two species of Paca: the Mountain Paca and the Lowland Paca. Both of these two species can be found throughout the rainforests, lowlands, swaps and along the river banks of Central and South America. Both of these species of the Pacas are found from Southern Mexico southward to Northern Argentina and even on the Island of Trinidad.
Prized as game, Pacas are widely hunted in Belize. High in calories, the meat from the Paca was so prized that, according to ancient legend, only the Mayan kings could raise and eat them. Mayan servants were punished severely if they were caught eating a Paca. Even today the Paca’s meat can fetch a good price and is still a luxury. However, due to their rapid reproduction, Pacas may soon be raised commercially.
Due to hunting and their high price as meat, the Paca have been susceptible to poaching. Though the Paca is still quite plentiful as a whole, some areas, for currently unknown reasons, have seen decreases in the Paca populations with the Mountain Paca being the primary one at risk.
Both the Mountain Paca and the Lowland Paca have a diet consisting mostly of fruit. However the Pacas are known to have slightly varying diets depending on their location and time of year. Other foods Pacas are known to eat include roots, seeds, leaves, buds, and flowers. Being raised in the wild versus in captivity is also an important factor in the diet of a Paca. In the wild Pacas are only herbivores, semi-conversely, Pacas in captivity, are omnivorous as they are also known to eat fish, raw meat, lizards and insects.
If you are ever in Belize be sure and try this delicious delicatessen: the Queen’s Rat. Gibnut meat is white and does not taste like pork, nor like rabbit, nor like chicken. Gibnut meat has it’s very own unique flavor: it tastes like gibnut! Eating a delicious meal of gibnut stew with Belizean rice and beans is sure to be a memorable cultural experience that you will have for the remainder of your life.