Capybaras: Getting Comfortable

The capybaras living on Elephant Mesa at the San Diego Zoo are doing great. Every morning they wake up, stretch (it’s very cute), and start walking toward me looking for a folivore biscuit or a slice of carrot. If I don’t arrive fast enough, in their opinion, they start cooing and vocalizing for their breakfast. In my last blog, Welcome, Capybaras, I was spending time getting them to eat out of my hands and allowing me to touch them. We have progressed wonderfully since then.

All nine of them will come over for food and sometimes it looks like I am swimming in a sea of large rodents! They have all been mostly polite taking food from my hand, but sometimes they get pushy and will chase one another out of the way. Along with hand feeding I have been working on getting them used to being touched. Checking their teeth, the pads on their feet, and general health care is always easier when they will come over for a scratch. So far five of them will allow me to touch them. In the beginning they are always scared and will do a sort of sideways hop to get away from my hand. But if they happen to stick around for more than five seconds, something clicks and they really start to enjoy it. All of their hair will slowly stand on end and their eyes will close. Usually if I can get to this point with one of them, they will come over again for touching easily the next time.

This entire group of capybaras is going to be living at the Zoo’s new Elephant Odyssey exhibit and this means training them for transport. As much as a parade of capys would be cute, I don’t think we could stop them from eating all of the leaves on the way over there! There is a side yard at their exhibit where most of their food is placed. At different times of the day I allow them access to this yard to eat. If you happen by the exhibit and see nine capys waiting patiently by the door, you’ll know why. Once I open it they all pop through the opening and enjoy their meal. When it comes time to move them to their new exhibit, it will be much easier than trying to round them up while on exhibit.

They will have a huge pool and many areas to hide out in if they choose to at Elephant Odyssey. Make sure to come visit them on the Mesa before they head back to be the present-day representative of the much larger Pinckney’s capybara.

Laura Weiner is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.