Poor Momiji Capybara… Being A Mother Capybara Can Be Very Stressful もみじカピバラ…母カピバラは非常にストレス

Poor Momiji. Being a mother capybara can be very stressful. The last two capybaras to give birth at the Biopark have both died.

Momiji and Doughnut

Momiji and Doughnut

On July 12 Momiji gave birth to two baby boys, Choco and Doughnut. Three days later when the keepers arrived at the Capybara enclosure first thing in the morning they were amazed to discover a tiny little baby capybara wandering around amongst the herd. After inspecting all the adult female capybaras they concluded that Ayu was the mother (there was a drop of blood on her bottom). Ayu was not producing any milk so little Macaroni, as he was named, was put into Momiji’s enclosure for her to look after.

In the wild capybara mothers go in for “alloparenting” (communal nursing). This means that all the mothers are happy to suckle any of the babies. So it was quite natural for Momiji to take over mothering Macaroni.

Momiji Nurses Choco, Doughnut and Macaroni on Capuchin Island

Momiji Nurses Choco, Doughnut and Macaroni on Capuchin Island

We spent six weeks visiting the capybaras at Nagasaki Biopark every day… all day. Capybaras are exceptionally intelligent and emotionally very sensitive and sophisticated. They are extremely affectionate and gregarious.    In their behaviour and their relationships they remind me so much of humans. I hope they don’t mind the analogy!

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Momiji

Momiji

On our first day at the Biopark the afternoon was punctuated by a succession of thunderstorms. And it rained heavily… all day.   Capybaras hate rain.

Momiji was in a small enclosure on her own with the babies near the entrance to the main capybara petting enclosure. She had been taken out of the herd some weeks before she gave birth, and she would spend a further six weeks in this separate enclosure after giving birth. This practice is intended to protect her and her babies from any attacks by other capybaras.

Doughnut

Doughnut

But Momiji frequently missed the company and support of the herd. There were days when she called and called and called for the herd. Our first day at the Biopark was one of these days. She found the thunder and lightning deeply unsettling, she hated the rain but most of all she missed the herd. She needed their company and their support in this disturbing and upsetting weather.

Choco, Macaroni and Doughnut on Capuchin Island. September 2013

Choco, Macaroni and Doughnut on Capuchin Island.
September 2013

Donguri, number one in the Biopark hierarchy came to visit her at least twice a day.   She would stay for long periods lying as close as she could get to Momiji, against the fence, or if it was very hot she would stay in the pond adjacent to Momiji’s enclosure, half out of the water with her forepaws resting on the bank, looking at Momiji and softly calling to her.

Donguri Guarding Momiji's Enclosure

Donguri Guarding Momiji’s Enclosure

Donguri is the matriarch of the herd and a very wise and caring capybara. She is the most important capybara in Japan because everyone wants to breed to her in the hopes that her offspring will inherit her exceptional character and personality. This doesn’t always work out!   Kaede, Momiji’s sister, is one of the naughtiest capybaras and has been sent to another zoo, because she was always fighting.   Momiji has also not inherited Donguri’s character;  where Donguri is very calm, Momiji is very restless and intense.   Donguri is Momiji and Kaede’s mother.

Momiji is very intense, she does everything to the best of her ability. She is an exceptional mother always acceding to the demands for milk of her babies, no matter how demanding they are. By contrast Maple frequently refused her babies’, Butter and Cookie, demands for milk. In 2014 Momiji’s baby, Aoba, was the size of a 5 month old when she was only 2 months old, and noticeably larger than Butter and Cookie. She is a wonderful lover, making herself instantly available, and very intense in her lovemaking. Inevitably she is a favourite of all the male capybaras.

On our first day Momiji was very anxious, she felt threatened by the continual thunderstorms. She called the herd again and again throughout the day.

Poor Momiji was also often very hungry. Feeding three babies takes a lot out of any mother. She soon came to see me as her guardian angel and food provider as I had noticed how hungry she was and was concerned about her.   She let out a very cute, soft chuckling sound of gratitude as she started to feed, and looked up at me happily with her soft brown eyes.

The keepers sometimes very kindly gave me extra bamboo, yam plant and pellets to feed her;  Momiji and I were both very grateful.

 

Momiji and Choco Eating Hay. Only the hungriest capybaras ate the hay. In the afternoon the only other food available was the bamboo bought by the visitors. Unfortunately Momiji often missed out on this as people preferred to feed her cute little babies.

Momiji and Choco Eating Hay. Only the hungriest capybaras ate the hay. In the afternoon the only other food available was the bamboo bought by the visitors. Unfortunately Momiji often missed out on this as people preferred to feed her cute little babies.

The feeding mechanism for visitors who wanted to buy pellets and feed Momiji was not very efficient. The Biopark does not like visitors to hand feed the capybaras so in Momiji’s enclosure you had to drop the pellets down a long tube. Unfortunately the tube frequently became detached at the entrance point to the enclosure so many of the pellets fell outside her enclosure (towards the end of our visit this was remedied). However even then those pellets that did make their way into her enclosure frequently bounced off the receptacle that was their intended destination and ended up on the floor of the enclosure. Anyone who has ever fed pellets to a capybara will have discovered that capybaras do not find it easy to locate pellets that have fallen on the ground.

Momiji and The Babies Share Bamboo

Momiji and The Babies Share Bamboo

To get round this I hand fed Momiji through the bars of the fence. She soon came to recognise my smell.   Later on when she was released into the main petting enclosure she continued to view me as her friend and provider. As she was usually hungry she would come over to me pointing her nose up at me and sticking her  little pink tongue out hoping for a food reward. She had cleverly learnt that humans love to see cute little pink capybara tongues, and by sticking her cute tongue out she was able to encourage visitors to give her extra food rewards.

Momiji Sticks Her Tongue out at Marc

Momiji Sticks Her Tongue out at Marc

She would often come and sit behind us with her babies when the petting enclosure was full of people.

From my diary, Friday, September 6: At breakfast only four troughs are used. There were nine troughs available, although frequently fewer than nine were used.   Using fewer troughs leads to more competion for the food, and a lot of extra agonistic behaviour, conflict and fighting.

Macaroni is pushed into the pond, Momiji gets hardly anything to eat. Even Maple is now challenging Momiji for her position in the hierarchy. Poor Momiji went from trough to trough getting pushed away. Even Donguri tried to nip her and gnashed her teeth.

I asked if I could pick up some pellets which had fallen on the path, and give them to Momiji to eat. I was told “No”.  I was in tears. I had only asked because I was certain the answer would be “Yes”.   It made no sense that I couldn’t give the pellets to a very hungry capybara who was nursing 3 baby capybaras and desperately needed more to eat. Later when no one was looking I gathered up all the pellets that I could find on the path and gave them to her. Then I moved the trough so she could eat the pellets that were hidden underneath.

 

Momiji

Momiji

Another clever little strategy Momiji had worked out was to jump up onto a bench and sit there looking so endearing and expectant. This immediately brought her to the attention of visitors and made her stand out as a very attractive and lovable capybara to feed. She frequently came and sat on the bench beside us, and on one occasion she was so hungry that as soon as I put a pellet in my hand she jumped in my lap!

Momiji and Doughnut

Momiji and Doughnut

When Momiji suckled her babies she went into a trance like state. Her eyes would glaze over, and she made this beautiful, quite magical sound and her nose vibrated. On several occasions when she was suckling/nursing she looked a little restless and uncomfortable, shifting her weight from foot to foot as if she would rather be doing something else. After a short while she would go into this trancelike state and from then on she was happy to stand there forever, well for at least 12 minutes.

“Momiji Suckling Baby Capybaras. Beautiful Vocalisation, Nose Vibrates”:    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i2M63phyWmo

The sound quality is better in this video, but the video is only in close-up of Momiji’s head (the close-up is in order to improve the sound quality). “Capybara Momiji Beautiful Vocalisation As She Suckles”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnoD08LKtko

She won my heart… The way she looked to me for nourishment and protection.  She was just such a wonderful mother always putting the needs of her babies first.

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12 thoughts on “Poor Momiji Capybara… Being A Mother Capybara Can Be Very Stressful もみじカピバラ…母カピバラは非常にストレス

  1. Hello, dear Capybaralover ^_^
    I will go to Japan for the first time in April 2014. After staying in Tokyo I will travel across some cities until I reach Nagasaki and the bio park! I saw capybaras in the zoo here in Berlin but I really want to see them from close! And touch them

    I just wanted to ask whether you have a recommendation on a day during the week or a daytime to go in the park? Unfortunately, my Japanese is very basic so I could read signs but not talk to people….

    Like

    • Hi Marty,

      I wrote a reply to this when you first posted on Capybara World Facebook page, but since I can’t find it I presume it didn’t get through. I am very sorry.

      I prefer it when there are fewer visitors. The weekends and holidays are busiest and are the times I would avoid. Early mornings tend to be the quietest times, but any time during the week should be okay. Occasionally parties of schoolchildren, or noisy groups arrive but they never stay longer than about 20 minutes. I am not sure when the school holidays in Japan are.

      Avoid Golden week which is the end of April beginning of May, and is a big holiday in Japan.

      Did you see my blog: https://capybaraworld.wordpress.com/2012/09/23/how-to-get-to-nagasaki-bio-park-to-see-the-adorable-capybaras-of-course-there-are-lots-of-other-animals-many-of-which-you-can-pet-and-botanical-gardens-its-very-easy/

      the Lorelei hotel in Huis ten Bosch has the best rates. You might get good rates through booking.com or direct with the hotel. Alternatively the Toyoko Inn in Sasebo is good value and right by the train station, from where you catch a train to Huis ten Bosch and then the free Bio Park bus, which you can catch from either outside the Lorelei hotel, or at the entrance to Huis ten Bosch by the Okura hotel, which is modelled on Amsterdam railway station, you can’t miss it.

      We always managed to find somebody who spoke a bit of English except in the capybara enclosure, although one of the keepers speaks English but he is not always on duty.

      If you have any other questions please feel free to ask. And have a wonderful time. Give Donguri a pat from me, she is easy to recognise because the outer toe on her front left paw bends round the wrong way.

      Like

      • Thank you very much for the answer! Somehow facebook did not show it.
        I have another question. As a poor student I plan to couchsurf for most of the time. Do you have to live in the Lorelai Hotel or the Okura Hotel to use the free shuttle bus?

        I get so excited when I imagine patting those beautiful creatures. I really wonder how their fur feels. I probably will recognize Donguri from watching the photos and videos of your blog ^_^

        Like

  2. No you do not have to stay at any of the hotels in Huis ten Bosch to use the free shuttle bus.

    If you stay in Nagasaki there is cheaper, hostel style accommodation that a lot of the younger visitors to the Bio Park stay in. I’m sorry I don’t have any names but the Biopark might know if you contact them. There is a bus from Nagasaki bus station to the Bio Park. Sometimes it goes directly into the Biopark, and a few times it stops in the nearby village a 10 minute walk away.

    I can imagine how excited you feel, and I will envy you in April. The fur on the older capybaras is quite coarse, but on the youngest capybaras, especially the babies it is much softer. Kin and Gin have very long golden fur and love to be petted. Often you only have to touch their bottoms and they stop whatever they are doing and their hair rises and they go into that blissful state.

    Have a wonderful time and do feel free to ask any more questions if you have them

    Like

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