These are some Wildlife Parks where you can feed and sometimes pet capybaras.
Most zoos in Britain do not allow visitors to enter the capybara enclosure.
A very few zoos offer “animal encounters” where you can feed or pet the capybaras. Although some of these zoos only say that you can feed the capybaras, some people have been able to pet the capybaras as well.
Having spent the past eight years studying and observing capybaras and their behaviour I have come to some conclusions: firstly, capybaras bonded with humans seem to suffer so I believe it is very important for every capybara to be bonded with other members of their species. Capybaras are an exceptionally social and gregarious species and should not be kept alone in a separate enclosure away from other capybaras.
I see no justification for a policy which prevents keepers from petting/touching the capybaras in their care. Quite the opposite. It is very important that animals/capybaras trust their keepers. One way of building up trust is for the keeper to have positive interactions with the animals/capybaras in their care. Capybaras love to be petted If they have been socialised to humans early in their life. This socialisation should take place during what is called the “critical period” which in most species occurs at about 4 to 6 weeks of age.
Building up trust and having direct contact with the capybaras allows keepers to perform healthcare procedures, and other actions, much more easily and reduces the amount of stress animals experience in these situations.
I suspect one of the reasons zoos restrict access to the capybaras, and prefer visitors to feed rather than pet the capybaras, is a fear of litigation if the capybara accidentally bites the human.
Shepreth Wildlife Park, near Cambridge.
Shepreth Wildlife Park may offer the best experience for interacting with capybaras.
They have four capybaras: Jinx, Daze, Hex and Hoodoo.
In the words of their capybara keeper: “Hex and Hoodoo are sisters, aged 2. They are new to the park, fairly shy, and choose not to be involved in the public encounters, but watch from a distance. Daze is a male, aged 5. He is also relatively new, and initially also watched encounters from a distance, but recently has come closer, and is now able to be fed from a bowl held by visitors, but we do not touch him yet.
Jinx is the star! She is 5 years old, and is very friendly. She certainly seems to enjoy being scratched around the ears, chest and jawline, and will position herself to get the scratches right where she wants them.
Shepreth Wildlife Park offers encounters with several of our species. We believe that having the chance to experience wild animals close up allows visitors to build empathy with individual characters, which then translates to a appreciation for the species as a whole. It also allows us to fundraise for essential conservation work at home and abroad.
We offer encounters only with species that are suited to the experience, and always with ethics committee approval. The capybaras have proven an ideal species for this and the experience has proved popular with visitors. ”
The charge is £50, which as mentioned above allows the park to fundraise for essential conservation work.
For more information: https://sheprethwildlifepark.co.uk/
Beale Park, north-west of Reading, Berkshire.
Beale Park offers an attractively priced sponsorship scheme which includes the opportunity to meet the capybara keeper by prior arrangement; they are considering including animal encounters in the future. Beale Park has two capybaras, Sharon and Gary, who are 3 years old and are brother and sister; like many male capybaras, Gary has been neutered. The sponsorship scheme costs £35, lasts for 12 months and includes one free entry to the wildlife park.
For more information: https://www.bealepark.org.uk/support-us/animal-adoptions/
Cotswold Wildlife Park, at Burford, Oxfordshire
Cotswold Wildlife Park has 4 capybaras, two five-year-old adults, Bell and Olly, born 14 January 2014 and 18 December 2014 respectively. The two pups, Apple and Kiwi are 11 months old and were born on 5 August 2018.
Cotswold wildlife Park offers a 30 minute animal encounter where you can feed both the capybaras and tapirs together. This is a strictly non-touching experience! Even the keepers do not touch the capybaras.
The encounter lasts 30 minutes and cost £50 per person. https://www.cotswoldwildlifepark.co.uk/get-involved/animal-encounters/
Drusillas Park, Alfriston, East Sussex
At Drusillas Park you can feed the animals in their “close encounter experiences”. The price for this experience is £80 on a weekday during term time, and £95 at the weekend or during school holidays. If there is a second person there is an extra £45 charge.
Thank you very much Tommy Lawn and Finnick Howard for their contribution to this blog.