LATIN NAMEHydrochoerus hydrochaeris
CONSERVATION STATUSLeast Concern
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The South American Habitat
About the Capybara
The largest rodent in the world, the Capybara stands about 60cm and is a heavy, barrel-shaped animal with a short head and legs. It can weigh up to 65kg – females are slightly heavier than males – and its nostrils, eyes and ears are all positioned high up on its head to suit its semi-aquatic life. Its toes are webbed and the ease with which it takes to water is reflected in its scientific name (Hydrochoerus), which means ‘water hog’. They flee to water to escape predators and possess the ability to remain submerged for up to five minutes!
This herbivorous grazer is found along Central and South American riverbanks as well as near ponds and marshes. Capybaras generally feed on grasses and water plants but will also eat fruit and bark during the dry season. They are social animals and typically live in groups of between 10 and 30 individuals, which are led by a single dominant male. The female gives birth on land, producing a litter of between 2-8 pups each year.
Capybaras are a vocal species – constantly emitting a churring purr when active but can also bark, chirp and whistle on occasion. They can live up to 12 years in captivity but due to predation in the wild from jaguars, anacondas and eagles, their typical life span is reduced to 4 years.
Capybaras are not considered a threatened species as their population is stable in their home range, although hunting for their meat and pelts has reduced their numbers in some locations. In some parts of South America, they are also farmed for their meat and skin.
Did You Know?
Capybara skin is particularly prized in the making of fine gloves because of its unusual tendency to only stretch in one direction. In fact, it is highly valued in South America, where there is a large domestic market for the skin of this species.
The Fota Connection.
Capybaras have been resident in Fota Wildlife Park since 1989 and in 2019, two adult males joined the collection on loan from Belfast zoo. Currently, both are on exhibit in the park’s South American enclosure where they share an enclosure with Brazilian Tapirs, Darwin’s Rheas and the occasional free- roaming mara!
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