Belfast Zoo keepers are hearing the ‘pitter patter’ of tiny webbed Capybara feet as the parents, Charlie and Lola, welcomed four pups on May 10.
Capybaras (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris) are the largest rodent species in the world. These rodents are found in South America and are semi-aquatic mammals. They have webbed feet and can stay underwater for up to five minutes, which allows them to hide from predators. In fact, their scientific name even means ‘water hog’.
Zoo curator, Alyn Cairns, said “Our Capybaras live with some other South American ‘amigos’, including Giant Anteaters and Darwin’s Rhea. We have said ‘hola’ to quite a few new arrivals in this enclosure recently including a baby Giant Anteater, Darwin’s Rhea chicks and now four Capybara babies. We couldn’t be more delighted."
Cairns continued, "While the Capybara is not currently classified as an endangered species, it is hunted and poached for its meat and skin. It is important that zoos, such as Belfast Zoo, help to raise awareness of this species and the increasing dangers which they face in their natural habitat. We have no doubt that our South American babies will soon be a firm favourite with visitors!”
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.
You can support the care of Belfast Zoo’s Capybaras by taking part in the animal adoption scheme. Find out more at www.belfastzoo.co.uk/adoption .