Zoo Berlin recently welcomed five baby Capybaras to their South American exhibit! Born just several weeks ago, the five pups, along with mother, Lucia, explored their enclosure for the first time! Careful to stay close to mother and each other, they enjoyed their time investigating various aspects of their home at the zoo.
Native to South America, the Capybara is classified as the largest rodent in the world. They have a distinctly large, blunt head and a pig-like appearance. Capybaras are capable of running as fast as a horse. However, they enjoy a semi–aquatic lifestyle and prefer habitats in lowlands, close to water. They can be found in greater numbers on flooded grasslands, where water, dry ground, and pasture are readily available. Capybaras possess physical traits that aid their love of swimming. Their ears, eyes and nostrils are positioned high on their heads, enabling those features to remain above water as they swim. Their bodies contain large amounts of fatty tissue, which provides buoyancy. Also, they have partially webbed feet.
Capybaras are herbivores and quite efficient grazers. Their diet mainly consists of grasses, aquatic plants, fruit, and tree bark. Adults can grow to a length of nearly five feet and can weigh over 140 lbs. Like their cousin, the Guinea Pig, they lack the ability to synthesize vitamin C, and they require supplements in captivity to prevent scurvy.
Capybara are highly social and typically live in large groups of 10 to 30, comprised of a dominant male and several females, as well as their young of various ages. They prefer to mate in the water. After a gestation period of about 150 days, they average a litter of four babies. Baby Capybaras are born on land. Their mother will resume normal activities soon after the arrival of newborns. Generally, within a week after their birth, baby Capybaras are able to venture out with their family and graze for grass. They will continue to nurse till 16 weeks, and from any female in their large family!
The Capybara, at this time, is not considered a threatened species. According to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), the Capybara is classified as level LC (least concern) on their Red List. However, hunting has greatly reduced their numbers in some of their native habitat. In some areas of South America, their meat is considered a valuable source of protein. Their hide is used for leather goods, and the grease from their fatty skin is popular in the pharmaceutical trade of South America.
Because of their outgoing personalities, Capybaras are zoo favorites. They are gentle and will usually allow humans to feed and pet them. They can live up to 12 years in captivity.
Although there is no current threat to their species, concern and care has been taken to prevent there ever being a change in the Capybara's status. The EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria) has assigned Drusillas Park, in Sussex, UK, the task of keeping the studbook for captive Capybaras in Europe. Studbook keepers document all births, deaths, and movements between zoos. Studbook keepers also provide husbandry guidelines and advice on how the Capybara should be kept.