Cotswold Wildlife Park is home to a diverse collection of over 1,500 animals from 250 different species. This includes the Capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris), a giant rodent species from South America that is probably best described by zoologist, Desmond Morris, as “a cross between a Guinea-pig and a Hippopotamus”. It is the largest living rodent in the world and the last remnant of a long line of gigantic grass-eating rodents that evolved in South America over millions of years.
The Park’s new breeding pair were introduced last year and bonded straight away. Due to their large barrel-like build, mammal keepers were unaware their female, Belle, was pregnant until they discovered the newborn twins by her side during their recent morning checks.
Belle and Ollie are proving to be attentive first-time parents, but the arrival of their first pups has not curbed Ollie’s amorous interest in his new partner. Keepers are hopeful the new family group will grow in numbers and the Park’s successful Capybara breeding record will continue.
Curator of Cotswold Wildlife Park, Jamie Craig, commented, “Capybara babies are always extremely popular with the keepers and our visitors. They are born looking like a miniature version of their parents and are soon exploring the enclosure and swimming in their pool. We have had great success with this species over the years and it is reassuring to know that this new pair will continue that tradition”.
After a gestation period of 150 days, females give birth to highly precocial young (just as well considering the vulnerable pups are a food source for many large predators in their native homeland). Anacondas, Caimans, Jaguars and humans hunt this species for their meat. Newborns weigh approximately 1.5kg and are able to graze within hours of birth. (A full-grown Capybara can weigh up to 65kg.) The young will continue to suckle until they are approximately four months old and will stay with their parents for roughly one year.
At just two days old, visitors and keepers witnessed the newborns tentatively taking their first steps into the water.
Water is a vital resource for this semi-aquatic species; it is used not only for drinking, but also to control their body temperature and as an escape from predators. Capybaras usually mate in the water. They can even sleep underwater by leaving their noses exposed to the air. Their water-resistant fur, partially webbed feet and position of their eyes and nostrils on the top of their heads enables them to remain almost completely submerged but still able to hear, see and smell what is happening on dry land nearby.
Unusually for a rodent, even the male’s scent gland, which most other rodents carry on their cheeks, is on the top of his nose. Their scientific name (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris) means ‘water horse’.