Choco was a very special capybara. How could Nagasaki Bio Park send him away. It speaks of immense ignorance and lack of interest in the capybaras. I and many other people are heartbroken.
Choco was an exceptional capybara. People came from all over the world to meet him.
None of the keepers know where Choco has gone which is very ominous. I fear it means he has been sent to China. Zoos in China have a dreadful reputation. I have many European and American friends who work in China and they all say that they cannot visit zoos in China because they are so depressing and the animals suffer so much. (See link below about kangaroo stoned to death by visitors at a zoo in China because the kangaroo was sleeping and they wanted her to move around to entertain them. This is absolutely barbaric behaviour.)
When thinking about what has happened to Choco it is important to remember that capybaras are very gregarious, social, herd animals and they are exceptionally sensitive emotionally. Research has shown that humans and mammals share the same neuroanatomical structures and neurochemical pathways which are important for feelings. This means that humans and mammals experience similar emotional responses to situations, both unpleasant and pleasant. Put yourself in Choco’s place and imagine just how frightened you would be.
Imagine how you would feel if you were put in a small, metal cage and taken in a truck to an unknown destination. Choco has never been in a vehicle before so the whole experience would be terrifying. Choco would be surrounded by strangers. There would be loud noises and strange vibrations. If he went to China the experience of flying with the concomitant pressurisation and depressurisation and the sensations of taking off and landing would be frightening beyond belief.
I am very worried about Choco.
Choco was such a wonderful ambassador for the Biopark. He was many people’s favourite capybara. Choco was also a very clever capybara and pioneered many new behaviours which no other capybara had ever done before. This is partly what endeared him to so many people.
People loved watching him open the gate to the capybara enclosure and go out to greet arriving visitors!
One new behaviour which Choco pioneered was to jump up into the channel which carries the hot water to the Onsen and enjoy his Onsen experience in this channel when the senior capybaras denied him access to the Onsen bath. No capybara had ever done this before. Six junior capybaras copied Choco’s behaviour and were able to enjoy the Onsen experience for the first time by going in the water channel. The visitors found this so entertaining.
In this video, Choco amazes the visitors by opening the entrance gate and going out to greet them.
When Choco was one-year-old and at the bottom of the hierarchy and not getting enough to eat he started going into the monkey house and eating the monkey’s food. Amazingly, the Capuchin monkeys accepted this. Choco was the only capybara the Capuchin monkeys allowed into their monkey house; when other capybaras tried to enter the monkey house they were chased away. Choco often slept in the monkey house out of the heat of the sun and sheltered there when the rain was heavy. Did the Capuchin monkeys consider him their pet?
When Choco wanted a nap and didn’t want to be intimidated or chased by senior capybaras he often sought protection by climbing onto people’s laps and going to sleep. No capybara would attack him if he was sleeping on a human’s lap. The visitors loved this. I remember one lady who refused to leave the capybara enclosure until Choco had finished his nap on her lap. Her husband looked increasingly bored and Impatient but his wife was so happy. In cold weather a soft, warm human lap was always very appealing.
Choco often slept on our soft, purple rucksack so we called it “Choco’s bag”. It will be very sad going back to the Bio Park with Choco’s bag but no Choco to sleep on it.
Finally Choco has a bag to call his own. It used to be our bag but he looked so comfortable sleeping on it. I love the way Choco put his front paws around the bag to make sure nobody took it away from him.
Choco loved rolling in the mud. He moved in a very special way rolling right over onto his back and moving his hips from side to side as if he was trying to experience the maximum enjoyment. Watching him was quite different from watching other capybaras roll in the mud. Choco often looked as if he was a trained dancer. Whether he was standing on his hind legs begging for bamboo or rolling in the mud his movements were so special and enchanting.
Choco moves so gracefully. I’ve never seen a capybara with such graceful paw movements, or the way he moves his body. He reminds me of a Kathakali dancer (a dance form from Kerala , in India). Choco is so patient trying to get a few bamboo leaves to eat. You can see how frustrated he is getting.
Choco is a real character and the Biopark was very lucky to have him.
To use language the management of Nagasaki Bio Park should understand: Choco was a great asset. From a business perspective Choco was the most entertaining capybara; he provided more entertainment for visitors than the other capybaras. Visitors who witness Choco’s interesting, amusing and pioneering behaviour are more likely to tell their friends to go to the Biopark to see the capybaras.
I hope Choco was not sent away because he often stole food. The visitors found it very amusing the way Choco would get up on his hind legs and steal branches of bamboo that had been put out for visitors to buy, or knock over the bowl of swan pellets, when he was hungry. Occasionally he managed to break into the keepers’ hut where the pellets were stored although he was never able to open the pellet container. Choco often opened the enclosure gates to go out in search of grass or a raid on the bamboo store just outside the gate. All these antics endeared Choco enormously to the public.
In this video he is working out how to steal some bamboo. He very frequently steals bamboo. However, because he is so lovable he never gets into trouble. He is a favourite of some of the keepers. He has inherited his father, Toku’s intelligence.
It would be quite unacceptable if Choco was being punished for this behaviour. And also very shortsighted. Surely the entertainment of visitors should be the second highest priority for the Bio Park management after the welfare of the animals. A myopic focus on making money will never lead to a successful business.
What has poor Choco done to deserve this? Animal Welfare Science is acknowledged to be poorly understood in Japan. A Japanese keeper I know of who understands Animal Welfare says that most Japanese people do not understand animals; they think animals are cute but nothing more. This information was corroborated in an article in The Japan Times which pointed out that many zoos in Japan keep animals in very small, unsuitable enclosures. Some of these are very small zoos in city centres which have no space and where animals often become overstressed because too many people are petting them. There is even a zoo in a shopping mall with one adult lion; totally unsuitable for large carnivores, or indeed for any other wild animal.
At all the zoos I know of in Europe the keepers stay with the same species for many years and usually for their entire careers. This means they become expert not only on the species but also on the individual animals in their care. They can troubleshoot problems before they develop and limit aggression. I have one friend who was a capybara keeper for many years at an Animal Park in France. There was never any aggression among the capybaras here and they were able to introduce a female into the herd who was not related to any of the capybaras in the herd.
It seems that Choco’s problems began in January with the departure of the three capybara keepers from the previous year and the arrival of two new, inexperienced keepers. A friend of mine who visited the Bio Park in January said that the keeper she spoke to could not recognise or identify the capybaras. I was told at this time that Choco and Doughnut had been fighting and were taking it in turns to be separated from the herd. In the past it has always been Doughnut who started the aggression and Choco usually turned his back and walked away. Doughnut is a much more emotional and aggressive capybara than Choco and for capybaras there appears to be an evolutionary advantage to being aggressive. If Choco and Doughnut had not been neutered then Doughnut’s aggression might have resulted in him fathering more offspring than Choco. A friend told me at the end of February that she thought Choco had left the Biopark but when I asked a former keeper I was told that Choco was still at the Biopark and they were still taking it in turns to be separated. I now suspect that this was not accurate information. About 2 weeks ago a friend of mine posted some photos she had taken when she visited the Bio Park at the end of March. On one of the photos she posted that Choco had gone but she did not know where. This was my first confirmation of the tragic news that Choco had indeed been sent away.
The Biopark keeps changing the keepers in the capybara enclosure so the keepers never build up any experience or understanding of capybara behaviour. They do not know the relationships between the individual capybaras or the history of the herd members.
There have been a number of significant changes to the capybara enclosure over the years. All of them have impacted negatively on the capybaras. The man who designed the original capybara enclosure understood the needs of the capybaras. He created a much larger enclosure which included grazing but some years ago a few visitors complained that there were capybaras on the path leading around the Biopark, so the size of the enclosure was reduced by half and the capybaras no longer had any access to grass. Nobody who cared about animals or had an understanding of Animal Welfare would condone this. There is an alternative route that visitors could take to avoid coming in contact with capybaras without having to reduce the size of their enclosure. The change to the feeding routines in 2013 increased competition between the capybaras for food and the capybaras now often become very hungry during the day. This has led to an increase in aggression with capybaras having to be taken out of the herd after being injured and then they are never able to return to the herd but must lead an unhappy life in a small, concrete enclosure. Hunger and stress lead to aggressive behaviour.
Capybaras are very gregarious, social, herd animals and they are exceptionally sensitive emotionally. Research has shown that the limbic system, including the amygdala and the hippocampus, which is important in processing emotions, is shared between all mammals including humans and capybaras. This means that most animal species experience similar emotional responses to situations, both unpleasant and pleasant, as we humans. We share the same ancestry as all other mammals. There is evolutionary continuity among animals; all mammals share neuroanatomical structures and neurochemical pathways that are important for feelings. It is long overdue that every human should understand that animals are much more than just CUTE. We should all understand and respect animals. We are so privileged to be able to share their lives.
It is very important that the capybara keepers stay with the capybaras for many years and develop an expertise in capybara husbandry. They should understand modern Animal Welfare Science including the importance of animals being allowed to display their natural behaviours, which in the case of capybaras means they must have access to grass, which is their staple diet in the wild, whenever they want to eat. At least at the Biopark they have a huge pond. Keepers must understand that it is essential for animals to have some control over their lives and that enclosures must include “enrichment”. Enrichment ensures that animals in captivity have objects to play with or engage with so that they do not become bored and stressed.
As is the case everywhere in the world the behaviour of people is becoming worse. I see this in the capybara enclosure. On our very last day last year I saw two cases of bad behaviour to Choco. One was a young child of about 8 or 10 years old who sat on Choco and then lay on him. I explained to her father that this was not good. Choco was amazing and did not react. A little later four men tried to push Choco over. Surprisingly Choco tolerated this behaviour but some of the capybaras could have become very upset. I have seen other people deliberately try to frighten the capybaras.
Choco is a very special capybara and it is a tragedy that he is no longer at the Biopark. It is unforgivable that Nagasaki Bio Park should have sent Choco away. No honourable zoo would ever send an animal to China.
Bioparkに教えてください 中国に動物を送り込まないでください。 私はチョコレートと親戚について非常に心配しています。
訪問者はカンガルーで岩を投げます。 カンガルーを殺す。 カンガルー睡眠。 それらを楽しませてください。 訪問者はしばしば石を投げ、中国の動物園で動物を打つ。
Please do not send Japanese animals to China. Zoos in China are terrible. I have American and European friends who work in China. They all say Chinese zoos are terrible. Animals suffer very much.
A kangaroo was stoned to death in a Chinese zoo – because it was not hopping enough to amuse visitors. Visitors to zoos in China regularly abuse animals, throwing rocks at them or bludgeoning them. Zoos in China are lightly regulated and animals frequently suffer horrific abuse.
Have Choco and Kin gone to China? This is keeping me awake at night. Nasu Animal Kingdom has sent capybaras to China. The Bipoark would not tell me where Kin went. If they send a capybara to a zoo in Japan there is no secrecy.