Chester Zoo is home to a grand total of eight new Capybara pups! Zookeepers spotted Capybara mum, Lochley, giving birth to her first two youngsters at around 7:30am on May 17. The third and fourth members of her new quartet arrived just before 11am, in front of amazed visitors. Later that same day, mum, Lilly, gave birth to four more pups!
Sometimes referred to as the ‘giant guinea pig’, the Capybara comes from South America and can grow up to 1.5m (4.9ft.) in length.
After the birth of the first four pups, James Andrewes, Assistant Team Manager at the Zoo, remarked, “Lochley gave birth out in the sunshine – her first two pups arriving before the zoo had opened with her second two born a little later, in front of a handful of rather astonished visitors. Within no time, all of the babies were up on their feet, running around, sniffing buttercups and clambering over mum.”
Andrewes continued, “We can already see that they’re going to be a bit of a handful for Lochley, but she’s looking fairly unfazed and I can see her keeping them in line without too much trouble. They’ll nurse around seven times a day and it’s at feeding time that they tend to settle down... for a short while at least!”
The Capybara is a large rodent of the genus Hydrochoerus of which the only other extant member is the lesser Capybara (Hydrochoerus isthmius). Although a close relative of Guinea Pigs and Rock Cavies, it is more distantly related to the Agouti, Chinchillas, and the Coypu. Native to South America, the Capybara inhabits savannas and dense forests and prefers to live near bodies of water. They are social and can be found in groups of up to 100 individuals.
Their bodies have been specially adapted for swimming - with webbed feet and their eyes, ears and nostrils located on top of their heads. They are able to stay submerged in water for around five minutes to help avoid detection by predators such as Jaguars, Anacondas and Caiman in their native South America.
Capybaras are herbivores, grazing mainly on grasses and aquatic plants, as well as fruit and tree bark. Their jaw hinge is not perpendicular and they chew food by grinding back-and-forth rather than side-to-side.
They are incredibly vocal animals, communicating through barks, whistles, huffs and purrs.
They have a gestation period of about 130 to 150 days and usually produce a litter of four. Newborn Capybaras will join the rest of the group as soon as they are mobile. Within a week, the offspring can eat grass, but they will continue to suckle, from any female in the group, until about 16 weeks.
While the Capybara is not currently classified as an endangered species, it is threatened by habitat degradation and illegal poaching for its meat and skin, which can be turned into leather. The zoo hopes their new arrivals will help to raise the profile of the often-overlooked species.