Zoos in Britain with Capybaras

If anyone has any more detailed information about visiting capybaras in Britain I would be very grateful for this information. I am particularly keen to find out about zoos or petting zoos where people can interact with the capybaras. I also wonder if there are any people with pet capybaras in Britain who welcome visitors, as is often the case in America.

A few zoos may allow you into the capybara enclosure to pet or feed the capybaras but the going rate for this wonderful experience may be as high as £50. In Australia, zoos charge about AU$50 to interact with their wild animals. At Nagasaki Bio Park there is no extra charge for entering the capybara enclosure and you can stay as long as you like.

In America there are quite a few people who keep exotic animals as pets or have small petting zoos, and who welcome visitors. Often there is no specific entry charge and they rely on donations, usually $10 per person.

Shepreth Park near Cambridge charges £50 to enter the capybara enclosure and interact with their capybaras.

I was warned by one zoo, Beale Park near Reading, Berkshire, that if the weather was not to their liking the capybaras might remain inside where I would not be able to see them, rather than coming out into their enclosure. I suspect this will be true at quite a few zoos in Britain.

Chessington zoo allows some children to interact with the capybaras on occasional weekends if the family have paid to become members at the zoo.

WN baby capybara on mother South America


Below is a list of zoos in Britain which have capybaras as of March 2019:

ALFRISTON / Drusillas Zoo Park
AMAZONAZO / AmazonaZoo
BASILDON / Beale Park
BEKESBRNE / Howletts Wild Animal Park
BELFAST / Belfast Zoological Gardens
BIRMNGHAM / Birmingham Wildlife Conservation Park
BLACKPOOL / Blackpool Zoo
BRANTON / Yorkshire Wildlife Park
BRENT LOG / Hanwell Zoo
BURFORD / Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens
CHESINGTN / Chessington World of Adventures, Ltd.
CHESTER / North of England Zoological Society
COMBE MAR / Combe Martin Wildlife & Dinosaur Park
DARTMOOR / Dartmoor Zoological Park
DUDLEY / Dudley Zoological Gardens
ESHOTTHEU / Northumberland Country Zoo
EXMOOR / Exmoor Zoological Park
FIVE SIST / The Five Sisters Zoo Park
FOLLYFARM / Folly Farm Leisure Ltd
HAMERTON / Hamerton Zoological Park
ISL AM AD / Amazon World
KNOWSLEY / Knowsley Safari Park
LDWP / Lake District Wildlife Park
LOTHERTON / Lotherton Bird Garden
LYMPNE / Port Lympne Wild Animal Park
MALTON / Flamingo Land LTD
MARWELL / Marwell Wildlife
NEWBALL / Woodside Wildlife and Falconry Park
NEWQUAYZO / Newquay Zoo (Cornwall Animal World)
NORTHUCOL / Northumberland College
PAIGNTON / Paignton Zoo Environmental Park
REASEHEAT / Reaseheath College Animal Centre
SHEPRETH / Shepreth Wildlife Park
SHUTTLCOL / Shuttleworth College Animal Centre
SO LAKES / Safari Zoo
TAMWORTH / Drayton Manor Park Zoo
TILGATE / Tilgate Nature Centre
WILD DSCV / Wild Discovery
WOBURNLTD / Woburn Safari Park
WRAXALL / Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm

Capybara Herd Behaviour; Very Interesting Capybara Psychology カピバラ群れ行動. 水豚群体行为

Comportamiento de Rebaño de Capibara. поведение стадо капибара.  Comportamento de Rebanho de Capivara.

PBS recently broadcast a documentary: “Equus, Story of the Horse”. I found this excellent documentary especially interesting because the horses’ herd behaviour seemed identical in some respects, but not all, to the capybara herd behaviour I have observed. Specifically, capybaras and horses are social animals who use emotions to communicate with each other.

SnapShot(17) JPEG WN capybaras in the wild

This emotional intelligence is one of the things which attracted me to capybaras. Capybaras (at least those capybaras who are used to people or are bonded with humans) are more sensitive to human emotions (including when you are injured or ill) than many people. People I know who have lived with rodents, including rats, as well as dogs, ALL say that the rodents are more sensitive to their emotions and more intelligent than dogs.

Research has shown that the parts of the brain which receive “olfactory signals” from the nose, also do other things, such as storing memories or provoking emotions. This explains why some smells can bring back old memories (remember Proust’s book “Remembrance of Things Past” – “A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu”, and the involuntary memories from childhood brought back by the smell of a Madeleine cake dipped in tea). This research explains why capybaras, with their vastly superior sense of smell, are able to identify people, and also peoples’ emotional state. This also explains capybaras’ emotional sensitivity and intelligence.

The leader of the herd is not necessarily the biggest, or the physically strongest, but the horse/capybara who is the strongest mentally, the horse/capybara with the personality to be a leader. In some species the leader also has to be an animal who is liked by other members of the group/herd. Donguri was just such a natural leader, very wise, intelligent, compassionate and curious. She only had to raise her nose to assert her authority; she avoided aggression. She was also very well liked by the other capybaras in her herd. Hinase, the current leader, is mentally very strong and tough minded, as is her daughter Ryoko who was destined to succeed mother, Hinase, as leader of the herd, before the tragedy surrounding her pregnancy.

Video:  How Hinase Maintains Her Authority over the Herdカピバラチーフが群れをどのようにコントロールしているか

Hinase is number 1 in the hierarchy of capybaras at Nagasaki Bio Park. As she approaches, most of the capybaras sit up, alert and ready to move away quickly if they sense she will be aggressive towards them. She seems to like this behaviour which acknowledges her leadership status, and it usually means she will not chase them.

 In this video, the keeper has hidden some pellets in the palm frond among the bed of leaves. Hinase realises this and as she approaches the food Hinase barks and the other capybaras move quickly away. Hinase probably also sends out an ultrasonic communication, at a frequency inaudible to human ears, which the other capybaras react to.







Horses and capybaras who are not popular with other members of their herd seek out human company. Maple, at Nagasaki Bio Park, is not popular with the senior capybaras but is a favourite of the keepers. When the other capybaras go into the pond she usually stays behind, sitting beside the bamboo stall hoping to be fed. Hinase particularly dislikes Butter, Maple’s daughter, and tries to attack her, so Butter takes refuge beside humans, often sitting between the legs of visitors.

Video:  Brilliant Mother Momiji Intimidates Maple for Attacking Her Daughter Aoba    もみじが積極的なカエデから娘の青葉を守る

Maple frequently tries to attack Momiji’s daughter, Aoba. Maple’s intention is to injure Aoba, although usually Aoba manages to outrun Maple. Momiji is a brilliant mother. In this video, Momiji indicates to Maple that she is not welcome after Maple has tried to attack Aoba. Momiji never attacks Maple, she just “frog marches ” Maple away. The senior capybaras do not like Maple and you can see Hinase, leader of the herd, looking on with great interest while she eats her meal, towards the end of the video.

 Capybaras, like horses, who are not popular with their herd members, seek out humans and Maple is a favourite of the keepers, which is why the keepers never intervene to protect Aoba. However, the keepers do intervene (as in this video) when Momiji chases Maple. Most of the keepers do not spend time observing capybara behaviour, and therefore do not understand the behaviours they witness.





I wish somebody would do a scientific study deciphering the body language, olfactory signals, vocalisations (some of which are outside the range of human hearing), which capybaras use in their relationships with other capybaras, as they negotiate their position in the hierarchy and during agonistic/aggressive encounters. Momiji has a very forceful personality, and you can feel that strength as her body bristles and stiffens, when she points her nose to intimidate another capybara. Hinase’s intimidatory stance is not as obvious to me, but the other capybaras seem to know not to challenge her.

Video:  The Great Capybara Chase グレートカピバラチェイスバターとヒナーゼ

Hinase, leader of the herd at Nagasaki Bio Park, dislikes Butter. She also does not like the neutered males in her herd mating. There is a very good reason for this as these males are too closely related to the females in the herd, and should have left the herd when they were one-year-old, as they would if they were living in the wild. Hinase, of course, does not understand that the males have been neutered. The neutered males, Choco and Doughnut, only mate with Maple and Maple’s daughter Butter. In this video, Donut has been mating with Butter and Hinase is angry. She chases Butter, but Butter always manages to get away, these days.

From my observations I would say Butter does not behave the way Hinase would like her to behave, as a junior member of the herd. Hinase sees her role as leader of the herd, in part to ensure the appropriate behaviour of herd members. As she approaches a capybara, she seems to want that capybara to become alert (the equivalent of “standing to attention”), ready to move quickly away if the capybara thinks Hinase might be aggressive. This act of becoming alert is usually enough to guarantee that Hinase will leave the capybara alone.

It would be completely wrong to assume that Butter is unhappy in the herd. She understands the behaviour of the capybaras and is much, much happier than a pet capybara bonded to a human would be.


Observing capybaras I am very aware when there has been some communication between two capybaras, by their behaviour and the way they react. However, the nature of this communication is frequently a mystery to me as a human. Sometimes I can see the capybara’s diaphragm vibrate and I can hear an almost inaudible, vibratory sound, like the rush of wind.

(A non sequitur, but interesting: The ancestor of all modern horses, who lived some 40 million years ago, had 4 toes on his front feet and 3 toes on his hind feet, just like capybaras! Some capybaras have an enlarged toe on their front feet, the second toe from the inside of the foot. Today’s horses run on an enlarged, evolved single toe. This is in part what gives horses their speed; the fact that they barely touch the ground as they run, which reduces resistance.)

Horses faces are very expressive; 17 facial expressions have been identified in horses, one more than in dogs and 3 more than chimpanzees exhibit. Capybaras have very expressive eyes/faces. I wish someone would do the research on how many facial expressions capybaras have.

Facial expressions is a relatively new field of study, as scientists have come to realise that some species, especially mammals, have a rich repertoire of facial expressions. Facial Action Unit is a tool which maps the face muscles, and the different ways these muscles can move, and categorises what sort of expressions are exhibited when particular muscles are activated, and in what situations these expressions are exhibited. I.e. which facial muscles are moving and in which situations.

Capybaras are very gregarious, social animals and they are exceptionally sensitive emotionally. Research has shown that the limbic system, including the amygdala and the hippocampus, which are 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.

In the light of this, it is long overdue that every human should understand that animals are much more than just CUTE. We should all understand and respect animals, and treat them the way we would wish to be treated. We are so privileged to be able to share their lives.

Memories of Donguri, The Greatest Capybara Who Ever Lived ドングリの思い出 世界で最も素晴らしいカピバラ

Marc is petting Donguri in this photo; I’m not quite sure why that made her yawn!

wn donguri yawns marc pets 19 jan 2016

Donguri Yawns When Marc Pets Her 19 January 2016

Donguri was very cute today. She tends to get hungry after about 3 PM, and she becomes very impatient when she sees me talking to human visitors when I should be feeding her!

The keeper gave me and a party of very nice Taiwanese ladies some bamboo to feed to the capybaras. I gave Donguri a few bites, and then held the bamboo up in the air (out of reach of other hungry capybaras) while I chatted to one of the Taiwanese ladies.

Donguri nuzzled by Choco. Her grandson. She absolutely adored it and held her head up expectantly for quite a while after he had walked away

Donguri being nuzzled by baby Choco. Her grandson! She absolutely adored it and held her head up expectantly for quite a while after he had walked away

Donguri decided she had had enough of waiting for her bamboo and climbed up on my wheelchair to reach the bamboo, and grab a mouthful. I was really impressed that at her age, and with her slightly weak right hind leg, she even contemplated doing this, let alone was successful. She helped herself to a huge mouthful of bamboo, and she looked adorable with most of the leaves sticking out of her mouth!

Of course I don’t have a photo of any of this, unfortunately.

When she had finished the bamboo, she pointed her nose upwards to show me she was ready for some food pellets.

When I continued my conversation with the Taiwanese lady, rather than moving away, Donguri stayed right beside me, opening and closing her mouth to show me just how hungry she was.

Exceptional Donguri, Queen capybara at Nagasaki Bio Park. A wonderful, compassionate and intelligent leader. どんぐりチャン。すばらしいリーダー。思いやり、賢い、インテリジェント。そして美しいです!

Exceptional Donguri, . A wonderful, compassionate and intelligent leader. どんぐりチャン。すばらしいリーダー。思いやり、賢い、インテリジェント。そして美しいです!

I had to explain to the Taiwanese lady that Donguri thinks I have been employed by the Biopark as her personal servant and, most importantly, to feed her whenever she feels hungry, which is pretty much all the time!


What Happened to Ryoko Capybara and How Has That Affected Her Position in The Hierarchy? 涼子さんカピバラは8月16日木曜日の午後に部分的な流産に苦しんでいますか?

In the afternoon of Thursday, August 16, 2018 Ryoko and her sister Keiko were sitting beside the entrance gate to the capybara enclosure hoping to escape. Ryoko is the biggest capybara in the herd and her sister Keiko is by far the smallest. They are from the same litter and for the first few months they were a similar size. Because of her small size it is much easier for Keiko to escape which she frequently does. The keepers are quite happy to let her stay outside the enclosure grazing as she needs to put on weight and she never strays far.

WN 40% Ryoko 23 June 2017 005

Ryoko was heavily pregnant having mated with Kona, the breeding male capybara, at both the beginning and the end of April. I was told the keepers did not think she had become pregnant at the beginning of April. The gestation period for a capybara is generally considered to be five months, although some people believe it is four and a half months.

On seeing that Keiko had escaped the keeper, quite unnecessarily, ran over to the gate at great speed. This alarmed Ryoko who ran as fast as she could to the edge of the pond and sat there looking very upset. She then lay down and experienced three violent spasms. I was very worried that Ryoko had miscarried and when we arrived the following morning I was expecting to see her in a distressed state.


WN 40% Ryoko 16 Aug 2017 004

Ryoko gave birth on September 5. She gave birth to two pups one of whom was very weak and died shortly after. Ryoko is the largest capybara in the herd and was in her prime at four and a half years old. In the wild capybaras reach their prime reproducing age at 4 years and give birth to 4.2 pups on average per litter. Capybaras can give birth to up to 8 pups in one litter.

As the largest capybara in the herd, and in her prime, it might be reasonable to assume that Ryoko is also the healthiest and fittest. I had expected Ryoko to give birth to at least 3 healthy pups and very possibly 4 or 5. I believe the trauma she experienced on August 16 may have caused a partial miscarriage in which the umbilical cord attaching the weak pup (who only lived a short time) to his mother’s uterus was compromised.

WN 40% Crop Ryoko 21 September 2017 042

Being heavily pregnant for the first time must be stressful. I was also worried about an additional, unnecessary stress that Ryoko was subjected to. From about the second week in August Ryoko was being separated from the herd for 17 hours a day even though I was told she was not expected to give birth until about the middle of September at the earliest. (On one occasion Ryoko was put in her separate enclosure over an hour and a half early, presumably because the keeper on duty wanted to make a quick getaway at the end of her working day. Ryoko never presented a problem being put in her separate enclosure so subjecting her to this extra separation time was quite unacceptable.)

It is very stressful for a member of this highly social species to be separated from the herd and there is a danger that separation will undermine a capybara’s position in the hierarchy and leave her vulnerable to being attacked. On our last day Maple was aggressive to Ryoko and Ryoko swam away giving the appeasement vocalisation. Maple would never have done this before Ryoko was separated. Ryoko is number three in the hierarchy and Maple is about five in the hierarchy. It is my belief that Ryoko could safely have given birth in the main enclosure as Donguri and Ayu both did. Ryoko is a very intelligent capybara, one of the two most intelligent capybaras in the herd, and I believe she would have found a safe place to give birth.  Obviously once Ryoko gave birth she would have to be separated together with her babies to protect the babies from visitors.

In an email to the chief animal keeper I warned that I thought Ryoko might be in danger of attack because of being separated from the herd for so long. This separation could weaken her place in the hierarchy and leave her vulnerable to aggression from capybaras seeking her place in the hierarchy.

Shortly after giving birth Ryoko suffered a dramatic loss of weight. From a video made at the end of September she appeared to be almost skin and bones. It was heartbreaking to see the largest, fittest capybara in the herd reduced to this. When she was released back into the herd in the main enclosure she was attacked (I have not yet been able to ascertain which capybara or capybaras attacked her). Because of the attack she has had to be separated from the herd once again. In her separate enclosure Ryoko looked extremely stressed and unhappy. Her surviving male pup spends part of every day away from his mother mixing with the capybara herd in the main enclosure. This must have been extremely stressful for Ryoko to be separated from her very young pup.

WN Momiji with bloody nose Maple attack September 4, 2013 149

When Momiji and her babies, Choco, Doughnut and Ayu’s son Macaroni, rejoined the main herd after 12 weeks of separation before and after she gave birth, Momiji came under constant attack from Maple. It was heartrending to watch poor Momiji. Life was very stressful for her

Researchers in South America have concluded that the dangers of separation for a pregnant female capybara outweigh any possible danger to the pup if the pup is born without the mother being separated from the herd. On my first visit to the capybaras, Fujiko, was separated from the herd at least six weeks before she eventually gave birth. She was put in an enclosure out of sight of the herd which caused a great deal of stress and distress not only to Fujiko but also to members of the herd. Every afternoon her daughters, Ayu and Hinase, would sit by the boundary fence closest to where their mother was, joined by Fujiko’s mother, Donguri, all calling plaintively to her. On some occasions the entire herd would sit here calling to Fujiko.

One afternoon when I was sitting petting Donguri she suddenly stood up and called frantically, then she began to walk over to the boundary fence nearest Fujiko. As we neared the boundary fence Donguri looked up at me appealingly and I realised she wanted me to open the gate so she could be with Fujiko. It broke my heart that I did not have the authority to open the gate and that I could not explain to her how much I wanted to help her but that it was not within my power to do so. Fujiko was moved to an enclosure adjoining the main enclosure after she gave birth and remained there for a further six weeks. In addition to her own two pups, she also nursed Syu and Autumn whose mother, Aki, had died five days after giving birth. When Fujiko returned to the herd she found life very stressful having lost her place in the hierarchy. Seven months later she died.


Momiji after she was attacked by Maple

In 2013 Momiji found life very stressful when she was separated from the herd before and after giving birth to Choco and Doughnut. She frequently called to the herd. Her mother Donguri came and sat beside the entrance gate to her enclosure for long periods, calling softly to her. When Momiji was reunited with the herd following twelve weeks of separation the very intelligent chief animal keeper put Maple in a separate enclosure during the day for the first few weeks to prevent her from attacking Momiji. After this when Momiji and Maple were in the same enclosure Maple frequently tried to attack Momiji. Maple wanted Momiji’s place in the hierarchy and sensed that the demands of childbirth and nursing her two pups had weakened Momiji. Momiji had lost a lot of weight and was always hungry as I pointed out to the keepers. For some very strange reason there seems to be a reluctance to give a nursing mother extra food.

The demands of giving birth and nursing can undermine the health of a mother if she does not get enough to eat. Capybara babies suckle for four months; the second half of this period of lactation, i.e. the final two months place the heaviest demands on the health and fitness of the mother capybara. Momiji survived in part because of the intelligent intervention of the chief capybara keeper. (Ryoko was given no such protection by the current chief capybara keeper; whoever was attacking Ryoko was not put in a separate enclosure to protect Ryoko.) It also helped that Momiji is very fit and an incredibly strong minded capybara and her mother, Donguri, was leader of the herd. Having Donguri as her mother ensured that Momiji could always share her mother’s food trough.

WN 40% Ryoko Wants Escape 25 June 2017 070

Ryoko is always trying to escape. Like Choco she was able to open the gate until they changed the handle, but even now she still tries every day. However, when the chief capybara keeper tried to lure her out of the enclosure for a walk with a huge branch of bamboo, Ryoko was deeply suspicious and refused to go near the gate. She even stopped eating the bamboo she loves rather than follow the chief capybara

The keeper who frightened Ryoko is new and is a very nice person he just needs a little more training. The zookeeper course should teach trainee zookeepers that they must always move amongst the animals in a calm, unhurried way, showing consideration and respect for the animals at all times. This keeper is always rushing, sometimes running, and this always disturbs and sometimes frightens the capybaras.

WN 40% crop Ryoko 27 June 2017 052

On one occasion Marc and I gave Ryoko a few sprigs of bamboo. She looked so happy and sang sweetly for us. Immediately afterwards the chief capybara keeper went over to her with several huge branches of bamboo. As she approached Ryoko stood up nervously, ready to move away quickly if she had to. Ryoko is extremely intelligent and does not trust the chief capybara keeper at all

Keepers who understand animals would of course instinctively know how to move around the enclosure. They always show respect for the capybaras and move In a calm, relaxed and unthreatening manner. Even when the capybaras escape, keepers who understand animals are always gentle and considerate as they usher the escapees back into their enclosure.

It is imperative that anyone working with animals is able to see the world from the animals’ perspective. This is a fundamental teaching of Animal Welfare Science. Also fundamental to Animal Welfare Science is the knowledge that every behaviour an animal exhibits is meaningful and is the animal’s way of communicating with humans. Animals in captivity must be able to exhibit their natural behaviours, which in the case of capybaras means they should have access to grazing at will and access to a large pond or other body of water as they are semiaquatic. Animals in captivity must also have some control over their lives. Some keepers do not understand this and one keeper uses dog training methods and food to control and manipulate the capybaras in her care. This particularly affects the most senior capybaras in the hierarchy who are already under stress at not being able to fulfil their two most important natural behaviours: to mate and to graze at will. Capybaras are very intelligent and exceptionally sensitive emotionally. They know exactly what this keeper is trying to do and like most rodents species they respond negatively to any effort to control their lives. Capybaras are quite different to dogs who have evolved into a domesticated species over the course of 25,000 years! The result of this unnecessary control and manipulation is extra stress on the herd and capybaras who do not trust the keepers. Ryoko, in particular, is nervous whenever the chief capybara keeper approaches her. This chief capybara keeper should work in the dog section of the zoo.

What Happened to Aoba Capybara? アオバカピバラ何が起こったの?

This is a continuation of my blog “How to Have the Best Relationship with Animals – Do Not Try to Control Them”

The events of this summer set me thinking about my own approach to animals and the negative effect on some animal species when people try to control and manipulate them emotionally.

Every behaviour an animal exhibits is meaningful; this is how animals communicate with humans, but not everyone understands or is sensitive to animals’ behaviour.

WN 40% Injured Aoba 28 Jun 2018 044

Shortly after our arrival this year something very bad happened to one of the capybaras, Aoba. What happened remains a mystery but Aoba was found in a distressed state when the keepers arrived on the morning of June 28, which happened to be Aoba’s fourth birthday. Aoba spent the day at the far corner of the capybara enclosure next to the fence separating her from Kona, the breeding male. She looked very sad and stressed. Aoba chose a location where it would be difficult for the keepers to get to her. At the end of the day the keeper on duty went to Aoba and tried to pet her. There was no reaction from Aoba and as soon as the keeper left Aoba went into the pond and disappeared under the wooden deck.

WN 20% Injured Aoba 28 Jun 2018 100

Aoba spent the day resting

When we arrived the next morning Aoba was still hiding under the deck. In fact we humans did not even know if Aoba was still alive; the capybaras knew of course. The chief capybara keeper put on her waders and tried to get Aoba to come out but there was no reaction. Shortly after this, Aoba’s mother, Momiji, swam over to the deck and called frantically. Momiji looked very worried. About ten minutes later Aoba appeared. Momiji’s behaviour was very interesting. Was she reacting to the keeper’s failed attempt to persuade Aoba to come out, and getting Aoba to do what the keeper had been trying to achieve? As a worried mother was she calling her offspring so that she could check on Aoba’s condition? If the chief capybara keeper had done nothing would Momiji still have called Aoba that morning?


If nothing else Momiji’s behaviour and Aoba’s response shows the strong family bond between mother and daughter capybara. As I have written elsewhere, Momiji is an exceptional mother and she was an exceptionally supportive daughter to her own mother, Donguri, staying beside Donguri during the last month of Donguri’s life as Donguri grew weaker and weaker.

WN 40% injured Aoba out from hiding 29 Jun 2018 007

Every time the chief capybara keeper, still in her waders, tried to approach Aoba, Aoba swam away. The chief capybara keeper seemed completely insensitive to what Aoba’s behaviour was telling her. The tone of her voice was one of admonishment; the authority figure who expected to be obeyed. She seemed to have no sense of Aoba’s fragile state or that she was dealing with an injured, probably frightened, animal. The chief capybara keeper wanted to control Aoba rather than connect with Aoba and reassure her. Her complete lack of sensitivity and lack of understanding of the situation and the appropriate behaviour she should be using surprised and disappointed me. I found this very disheartening in a keeper responsible for these sensitive and emotional animals.

Aoba had not eaten for almost two days and this worried me. Capybaras can lose weight very quickly if they are not eating. Marc and I went to the edge of the pond and called Aoba, holding out a piece of pumpkin left over from the morning feed. After a while Aoba came over to us and ate the pumpkin. However, every time the chief capybara keeper tried to approach her Aoba looked nervous and prepared to swim away. I had to tell the chief capybara keeper to go away as I felt it was very important for Aoba to eat and I didn’t want her to be frightened away while we were feeding her. After a while Aoba swam away and hid under the deck again.

crop feeding injured Aoba 29 Jun 2018 014

Later in the afternoon Aoba swam out from the deck so we called her and asked the keeper on duty to give her some food. He refused! He is the most junior keeper and I assume he was under instructions from the chief capybara keeper that Aoba had to come out of the pond if she wanted to be fed! I thought it was much more important at this stage for Aoba to eat something so we bought her some bamboo and gave her some pellets to eat while she was still in the pond.

After she had eaten Aoba went to sleep in the pond beside us. Capybaras often sleep in the pond, especially when it is very hot. In Aoba’s case, she looked very tired as if she had not slept much during the night following her traumatic experience. She was not ready to leave the pond and our presence beside her gave her security while she slept in the water.

Just before we left the capybara enclosure in late afternoon the evening feed was distributed and Aoba came out of the pond. We sat beside her while she ate to give her some reassurance and protection. Momiji came over as well. It took Aoba a week to fully recover.

This is a video we made of Aoba on the day of her distressing experience and the following day. Aoba was found in the Onsen area which is beside a moss covered, rocky hill about 10 feet high (3 1/2 metres in height). On the first day, her birthday 28 June 2018, you can see her in the far corner of the enclosure next to Kona’s pen. Late that afternoon the keeper tries to pet her. Shortly after the keeper leaves Aoba gingerly goes to the edge of the pond. She acts as if she is not confident about jumping in here, perhaps she is in pain, and moves to another area beside the pond where she feels more confident to jump into the pond. Aoba swims into hiding under the deck. The next day she is still hiding under the deck and you can see and hear Momiji frantically calling and looking very worried. If you listen closely I think you can hear a weak response from Aoba. Hinase, leader of the herd, also looks worried and cries twice (not in the video). Then you can see Aoba swimming away when the keeper tries to approach her. At the end of the video you can see Aoba eating vegetables at the evening feed, still looking rather dazed. Zabon’s female baby tries to suckle from Aoba’s nipple! Momiji is beside Aoba, eating some pumpkin.

There is a moss covered, rocky hill about 10 feet high, 3 1/2 metres, behind the Onsen. Aoba was found in a distressed state near the Onsen. Almost 2 years ago I saw Keiko and Sumire, Hinase’s daughters, at the top of this rocky hill stretching forward trying to eat some leaves. Sumire very nearly lost her balance and only just managed not to fall. I have a video of Keiko not quite losing her balance as she stretches forward, a little nervously, to try and reach some leaves. Shortly before this Gin injured her feet and legs very badly. She could barely walk and was attacked by several capybaras who wanted her place in the hierarchy. Eventually, she was attacked so badly she had to be taken out of the herd. I have always felt it was possible that her injuries were caused by falling as she stretched forward at the top of this rocky hill to eat some leaves and lost her balance. I wonder if Aoba also lost her balance trying to eat leaves at the top of this rocky hill. The branches have now been cut right back so there is no temptation for the hungry capybaras.

Two additional things disappointed me about all this: it was thought that Aoba might have been attacked by one of the other capybaras. Although there were no signs of injury it is possible she might have hurt herself trying to escape. The capybaras who the keepers suggested might have attacked Aoba were all capybaras with whom she is very friendly. None of the keepers mentioned, Maple, who is the only capybara known to attack Aoba, as a knowledgeable friend and I agreed. The other thing that bothered me was that one of the keepers said Aoba was fine two days after this mysterious incident. This was not true. On the day when the keeper said Aoba was fine, Aoba lay by the entrance gate looking as if she would like to escape. Then she sat down by the gate and did not move despite the hot summer sun and the hot concrete she was lying on. Normally she would have moved under the bushes nearby where the soft earth was much more comfortable, cool and shady. Later that afternoon Aoba walked the short distance to the pond and looked as if she wanted to jump in but something was preventing her so she lay down again. Throughout all this Aoba seemed more nervous of the keepers than any other capybara.

Capybaras are exceptionally sensitive and emotionally sophisticated. They know when someone is trying to control them and this makes them deeply suspicious.

WN 20% Sad Donut Injured Aoba 28 Jun 2018 117

Brother Donut sat near Aoba on the first day looking very sad and worried

Some of capybaras outstanding sensitivity to people’s emotions may be due to their superior sense of smell. Humans emit chemicals in response to different emotional states and these chemicals emit an odour which many animals can smell and react to. It has been scientifically tested and proven that animals can smell “fear”. So if you are afraid in the presence of an animal, for example a ferocious looking dog, that dog will smell your fear and may react accordingly. I wonder, therefore, whether people who compulsively try to control animals emit an odour which alerts and warns the animal/capybara that this person is not acting in the animal’s best interest and is not to be trusted.

I have absolutely no doubt that the best relationship a person can have with an animal is based on mutual trust and the person’s ability to understand life from the animal’s perspective. There are far more productive and rewarding ways of achieving a desired behaviour in an animal then by using force or by attempting to control.

How To Have the Best Relationship with Animals

My experiences with horses and capybaras.

The events of this summer set me thinking about my own approach to animals and the negative effect on some animal species when people try to control and manipulate them emotionally.

This year’s chief capybara keeper’s interaction with the capybaras was all about controlling them beyond the usual norms. This had a negative effect on the capybaras, particularly the most senior capybaras in the hierarchy who expected to be in control of their lives and already resented the restrictions on their behaviour as a result of living in captivity. They were particularly stressed at not being able to eat when they were hungry, and not being able to mate. Almost every interaction this chief capybara keeper had with a capybara involved an attempt to make him/her do some completely unnecessary action. Some of the methods she used to try to get the capybaras to bond with her come from dog training methodology; rodents are not dogs! Capybaras are very sensitive emotionally and they knew they were being manipulated. The result of her efforts to control them was that the capybaras did not trust the chief capybara keeper and often became nervous if she approached them.

Every behaviour an animal exhibits is meaningful; this is how animals communicate with humans, but not everyone understands or is sensitive to animals’ behaviour. I come from a family who seem to get on very well with animals and whom animals seem to like. From the youngest age I have always seen things from the animals’ perspective. I have never had any desire to control animals but I have formed the impression that some people who say they love animals, love animals because they enjoy controlling them. For some of these people I have sensed that they felt they had no control over other areas of their own life, or control over people in their lives, so controlling animals made up for this lack of control in other areas of their life.

WN 40% cute Doughnut paw curled 09 Jul 2017 064



Many years ago I spent a few months working at a riding school grooming and mucking out horses. This riding school specialised in training students for the British Horse Society Assistant Instructor rating. I had two notable experiences during this time.

On one of our rides through the woods I was given a young pony called Kestrel to ride. Kestrel had a reputation for being naughty and a difficult ride and it seemed he sometimes enjoyed depositing his rider in the mud! We were supposed to ride on a tight rein but every time I tried to pull Kestrel’s head up he would shake his head and pull against my hands. It was obvious to me that he felt more comfortable on a loose rein and I felt a greater need to let him be comfortable and happy than to control him against his will, so we trotted along with Kestrel choosing how he wanted to hold his head. The track through the woods was occasionally crossed by fallen tree trunks over which the horses would jump. However I had not yet learnt to jump and Kestrel quickly sensed I was in danger of falling off if he jumped over these tree trunks. So every time we came to a tree trunk he would slow down and walk over it. Much to my relief! I couldn’t help feeling that he was repaying my kindness towards him in keeping the rein loose, by not jumping over the tree trunks to ensure that I did not fall off.

One of my duties at the riding stable was to take the horse I groomed to the blacksmith once a month early in morning. The horse I was looking after was in fact the chief instructor’s horse with all that that implies. His name was Darcy. We would go to the blacksmith in pairs and on my first trip to the blacksmith I was accompanied by an American girl doing a British Horse Society assistant instructor course who was a far more experienced rider than me. On our return as we trotted down the tarmac road Darcy suddenly veered off to the right up a narrow path leading into the woods. It immediately struck me that Darcy seemed to know exactly what he was doing and where he was going. Unlike me, he had been to the blacksmith many times before. I was very happy to let him canter through the woods and sure enough the path led directly to the stables.

What really surprised me was the reaction of my American companion. She was extremely upset and angry. Since her horse had not bolted but had simply followed Darcy I could see no reason for her extreme reaction other than she must have had a completely different mindset in her relationship with animals. Presumably, she had felt out of control as her horse cantered along the path and unlike me she was not prepared to trust her horse and enjoy the ride.

One other experience from my time at the stables still upsets me. When I first started working there I looked after a horse called Selworthy. He was a very sweet, gentle, calm horse. Earlier in his life he had suffered a back injury, a slipped disc, and had spent a year recovering in a field of sheep. Selworthy soon took to guarding these sheep as if he was responsible for their well-being and happiness. One day the instructor decided to show the students how to inject a horse and chose Selworthy as the unfortunate guinea pig. Poor Selworthy became more and more upset as inexperienced students tried to inject him. I pleaded with her to leave Selworthy alone and find another horse but instead she put a twitch on poor Selworthy’s mouth. A twitch is an extremely unpleasant way of controlling a horse by tying a rope around the horse’s upper lip and twisting it; the idea is that if the horse struggles the lip becomes more and more painful so the horse will stop struggling against whatever the person is doing to him. In the end the instructor had to abandon this exercise. After everyone else had gone I spent a long time with Selworthy stroking him and calming him down, and telling him how sorry I was about the behaviour of these people.

Research has shown that rodents, perhaps more than any other Order of Mammals, want to be in control of their own lives. The research is quite amusing. For example, in an environment where rats are able to control the light levels the rats prefer a low-level of lighting. However, if the research scientists set the light to this preferred level the rats immediately turn the light up to a right level. It is just so important to these rodents to be in control that they will choose the opposite of what they really like in order to exercise control of their environment.

Capybaras are exceptionally sensitive and emotionally sophisticated. They know when someone is trying to control them and this makes them deeply suspicious.

I will come back to the damaging effects of trying to control capybaras in my next blog: “What Happened to Aoba Capybara?”.

I have absolutely no doubt that the best relationship a person can have with an animal is based on mutual trust and the person’s ability to understand life from the animal’s perspective. There are far more productive and rewarding ways of achieving a desired behaviour in an animal then by using force or by attempting to control.

请大家能帮忙代我寻找Choco吗? Choco现正住在中国某所动物园,牠是很容易被识别的。

请大家能帮忙代我寻找Choco吗? Choco现正住在中国某所动物园,牠是很容易被识别的。 Choco有一只分裂的脚趾(见图); 位于牠的左前腿,近左边的第二个脚趾便是分裂的。这只脚趾跟正常的脚趾看起来是较为宽阔的。您在附图便可以看到。







这是Choco capybara:


WN Choco on our bag 09 December 2015 154

Hierarchy in Japanese Society: Its Corrosive Effect and The Often Childish and Petulant Behaviour of Japanese Management 日本社会における階層構造:その腐食作用日本人経営者は、しばしばひどく振舞われた子供のように

Japanese society is very hierarchical. People in authority do not expect anyone to offer advice or challenge their decisions. Japanese people, on the whole, do not complain. This has led to a number of scandals.


My dealings with the management of one company over six years have given me personal experience of, and insight into, this dysfunctional management style. Put simply, I would describe the management of many Japanese companies as being unsophisticated. Because Japanese people tend not to complain, people in authority believe they can act with impunity, even if they are inefficient. The Japanese economy has been underperforming for several decades because of this inefficiency. The lack of accountability and lack of worldliness (in part due to the lack of English language skills) result in managements who often have a fear of losing control, fear of the unknown, a lack of initiative and a lack of imagination, which prevents them from adopting a progressive and successful management style.

Xenophobia linked to the lack of English language skills both also play their part.

One of the most high-profile scandals was that involving the Olympus Camera Company.

The company CEO was a British man who had worked for Olympus for his entire career. He discovered that some of the senior managers had been siphoning off funds and investing this money in highly dubious Caribbean companies which appeared to be completely unprofitable. This British CEO alerted the board members expecting that they would be so pleased that he had uncovered this financial scandal. However, the reaction was quite the opposite. He was met with opprobrium and asked to resign. At his final board meeting with the company he was served stale sandwiches, while the rest of the board members were served delicious sushi! This has been made into a movie entitled “Samurai and Idiots: The Olympus Affair”, which was released in Japan on May 19, this year having already been released in Europe in 2015.

A friend of mine who worked for Moody’s, the ratings agency, in Tokyo experienced the following: when Moody’s downgraded the rating of a Japanese company, this Japanese company asked him to come to their headquarters. He was kept waiting for over an hour in a small, dingy room where the cleaners took their break. He recounts being surrounded by middle-aged ladies knitting!

No Western company would behave in this childish and petulant way to punish somebody who had acted in an exemplary fashion but whose behaviour upset them.

Managers in the West are taught “damage recovery” or “service recovery”. If you were doing a degree in Business Management or Business Studies you would be taught the importance of pacifying an upset or irate customer by going on a charm offensive; in other words a good manager would seek to make that person happy again.

Other recent scandals involve Toshiba and Fukushima.

A British neurosurgeon I met commented that when he attended a conference in Japan he met quite a few doctors who had trained as neurosurgeons but were not practising neurosurgery because of the hierarchy system. Their talents and long training were therefore lost to potential patients.

I have met several young Japanese men who wish they could live abroad because they see no future with the weight of the hierarchical system preventing their progress.

I have several Japanese friends who have chosen to educate their children in England to avoid the Japanese education system which requires a great deal of hard work, mostly rote learning, but often offers little opportunity for career advancement after graduation. School days are much longer than in Britain and school holidays, already short, were recently reduced to just a few weeks in summer. One of these friends is the son of a diplomat and spent part of his childhood overseas. He wanted his children to enjoy the freedom and fun that he had experienced as a child abroad.


The education system with its emphasis on rote learning is often criticised for not teaching Japanese people how to think. One of the leading Tokyo University’s has two advertisements at Haneda airport, one in English and one in Japanese, emphasising that by studying at this university you will be trained to think!

I met a Scottish man who decided to leave his job in Japan because he did not want his children to be educated in the Japanese system where they would work very hard and probably end up in a very unfulfilling, mundane job.

Women are often discriminated against and few women feel they have the confidence to challenge decisions taken by men. I believe Japan has one of the worst records for promoting women in jobs and government. A recent scandal involved Tokyo Medical College where it was discovered that women candidates were routinely having their test results downgraded in order to ensure that more male candidates were accepted to study at the college!

And then there is the xenophobia. I have encountered more kindness from Japanese people than I would expect in most other countries but I have also encountered more xenophobia. Other foreigners I have spoken to have experienced exactly the same, on the one hand great kindness from some people but also high levels of xenophobia from others. I recently met two exceptionally polite and well mannered Canadian university students who had been denied access to several restaurants in downtown Nagasaki because they were foreigners. These two young men were neatly dressed, one was studying medicine, the other philosophy.

Another friend, an American who speaks fluent Japanese, recounts going out for a walk one evening in Kumamoto at about 10 PM. As he passed a young Japanese couple he heard the male say “Hairy foreigner! Scary!”. This friend was teaching English and to my surprise said that some students thought it was “cool” not to study or try and learn English. Up to now I had always assumed the lack of English was due to the difficulty of learning English and that every young person would want to speak English if they could.

When Japanese companies do make mistakes my impression is that, rather than owning up to their mistakes and making changes for the better, they carry on as before in the belief that they enjoy impunity whatever their actions.

My own experience, after I highlighted the issues surrounding the most popular capybara being sent to China, are in line with what I would call the typical, unworldly, unsophisticated and often counter-productive management style prevailing in probably too many Japanese companies. As I have said, the Japanese economy has been underperforming for several decades and I can now see why. Companies sometimes take decisions based on nepotism at the expense of the company’s success and revenue as a whole.

The director of the zoo had always been very friendly and always came to say hello within a week or two of our arrival back at the zoo each year. After I complained about the most popular capybara being sent away to China, when we returned this year he did not come to see us at all during the 10 weeks of our visit. When I highlighted some Animal Welfare issues (bearing in mind that Animal Welfare Science is acknowledged to be NOT WELL UNDERSTOOD in Japan, and therefore my knowledge on this subject, having studied Animal Welfare Science, would naturally be greater than many/most Japanese zoos) the person sent as emissary was someone who speaks no English! I do speak some Japanese but not enough for a serious conversation on animal related topics. Following my post on Facebook expressing concern about feeding routines, for one day the capybaras had a feast, the second day they got a much smaller treat and after that the feeding routine went back to normal!.

The zoo was upset because I described my observations, which included some animal welfare issues, on Facebook but I had no channel of communication in English with them. In the past the director of the zoo, the only management person who speaks any English, had said I should contact him if I had any observations in the capybara enclosure, however his behaviour this year indicated he had no wish for me to communicate with him. Some years there has been a capybara keeper who is prepared to listen to my Japanese and use the Internet to translate if necessary, and for two separate years there have been capybara keepers who speak English. This year none of the capybara keepers spoke any English, and the chief capybara keeper was the type of rather xenophobic Japanese person who makes no attempt to listen to a foreigner who doesn’t speak fluent Japanese, which is rude, making it impossible for me to discuss my observations. Last year one of the capybara keepers spoke some English and was very friendly to foreign visitors. He was actually a breath of fresh air in the capybara enclosure and his presence benefited both the capybaras and the Japanese visitors as well as foreigners. Because of his excellent social skills he was poached by the assistant director of the zoo, who is a former insect keeper with a continuing interest in insects and preserving endangered Japanese insect species, to become an insect keeper. The capybaras are the most popular animals at the zoo so from a business perspective it would make more sense for this keeper to have remained a capybara keeper. Had he remained a capybara keeper I would have been able to discuss the animal welfare issues with him rather than post them on Facebook. As this keeper completed his training very recently he has some knowledge of animal welfare issues (I was told that Animal Welfare Science has only recently been included in the zoo keeper course in Japan) and is also one of the few keepers who took the job because he likes animals and understands them.

I should perhaps explain that I have spent the past six years intensively studying and observing capybara behaviour in close contact with capybaras. I have read all the research papers pertaining to capybaras and some mammolagists and ethologists consider that I know more about capybaras than anyone. I do not wish to sound boastful but simply to explain that I have some information about capybaras which the capybara keepers definitely do not. Indeed, some of the capybara keepers cannot even recognise all the capybaras in their care! I also spend much more time observing the behaviour of the capybaras, and their relationships, than any of the keepers with one exception (a former capybara keeper from the year 2014).

I believe Japan suffers greatly from the lack of spoken English which is on a scale far greater than most other countries including Third World countries. This means that management is out of touch with the behaviour of managements in other countries and the lack of English also feeds into the xenophobia that often results in managements which fear losing control, lack imagination, and often have a myopic focus on making money at the expense of innovation and long-term success.

Japanese people feel they do not have a voice and rarely complain. A friend was in tears talking about Choco but she would never complain to the zoo about him being sent to China.

An example of a bad management decision was the decision of a zoo to get rid of their most entertaining and very popular capybara. Not only was this capybara exceptionally clever and entertaining and many people’s favourite capybara, but he was also not aggressive. His brother was the aggressive one. Because this brother kept attacking him, the two brothers had to be separated. When the decision to send one of them away was taken any well-informed management would have chosen to send the more aggressive brother away. I love him dearly but he may well fight with the younger, neutered males in the herd in the future which would result in one of them having to be taken out of the herd and sent away. If the zoo had kept their most popular and entertaining capybara, peace would have reigned in the capybara community at least as far as this capybara was concerned. This very popular capybara was also amazingly tolerant of bad behaviour by visitors whereas the more aggressive brother is a much more nervous capybara. He was a capybara in a million.  He was a gift to the zoo and they threw him away!

A friend of mine read an article about a major Japanese company which hired a British manager to fire people, so that no Japanese manager would be tarnished by doing this unpleasant job. Apparently the Japanese management wanted to be able to claim they would never have done this, so none of the laid off workers would be angry with them.

Hopefully in the future things will change. Bright young entrepreneurs who set up their own companies are already making a difference.

Some Japanese mothers try to teach their children “courage”. They do this by creating an unpleasant experience. For example, a friend of mine’s Japanese mother locked her out of the house in pouring rain in winter, on their return home from a shopping trip. The door had glass panes and the mother looked at her daughter through the glass as the daughter cried, completely confused and upset by the experience which could hardly be described as the behaviour of a loving mother.


We often see children in the capybara enclosure who are terrified of the capybaras. As they cry and scream in fear their parents watch them, laughing at them! Not all Japanese parents behave like this and some are very solicitous of their child’s fear and try to comfort them.




「動物福祉(Animal Welfare)」は全ての良識ある動物園が取り組むべき基盤となります。「動物福祉」を実現するには、動物の管理方法に「行動」に基づいた飼育を適用します。つまり動物に何を提供するかではなく、動物たちの行動を観察してニーズを探ることにより重点を置きます。動物たちの行動はメッセージ性にあふれています。動物たちの一つ一つの行動をつぶさに見れば、動物たちが何を必要としているのか私たちに情報を与えてくれます。行動に基づいた飼育法は、動物たちの健康や心理的充足、自然な振る舞いといったような「動物福祉」が持つ全ての良い要素が含まれます。







empty pond who stole



WN scent marking capybara straddling plant for a blog


「飼育施設のエンリッチメント(Enclosure Enrichment)」


WN Crop Aoba Milk Pond PLay 05 Jul 2017 055





Juanita eating grass


給餌:カピバラの食事には適当な人工飼料(ペレット)が十分な量を供給される必要があります。もし草が十分に提供できないのであれば、キャベツやレタスなどの葉物野菜を食べさせます。糖分の多い野菜は避けた方がいいでしょう。ニンジンはビタミンAを多く含み、カピバラの肝臓に負担がかかるので与えてはいけません。日本ではたくさんのカピバラが肝臓害度によって早くに死んでいます。興味深いことに、カピバラはしばしば自分たちにとって最適な食べ物が何であるのか理解しています。また、フルーツは糖分が多いので与えるべきではないでしょう。下痢の症状があれば、「Benebac」や「Bio 3」といったプロバイオティクスを与えることをお勧めします。 


Romeo swimming






WN one very muddy





What Has Happened to Choco, The Most Popular Capybara at Nagasaki Bio Park チョコに何が起こったのですか? 長崎バイオパークで最も人気のあるカピバラ

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.

WN 20% Choco and Marc 08 Nov 2016 077

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.)

Donguri nuzzled by Choco. Her grandson. She absolutely adored it and held her head up expectantly for quite a while after he had walked away

Donguri being nuzzled by baby Choco. Her grandson! She absolutely adored it and held her head up expectantly for quite a while after he had walked away

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.

(Choco was the most loved capybara at Nagasaki Bio Park. He often slept on visitors’ laps. The look of joy and delight on the faces of visitors when Choco slept on their lap was heartwarming to see. Choco has been sent away from Nagasaki Bio Park to China. It is heartbreaking to think of him suffering in a Chinese zoo. Not so long ago Chinese visitors stoned a kangaroo to death in a zoo in China because she was sleeping and they wanted her to move around and entertain them! So many people from all over the world and from Japan are very upset and angry that Choco and 9 other capybaras have been sent away to China. Nagasaki Bio Park refuses to give any information which Japanese capybara fans feel is very disrespectful to them.)

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.

lightened WN 25% crop Choco on our bag 09 December 2015 084

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.

To have Choco jump up onto your lap and go to sleep was one of the most wonderful experiences at Nagasaki Bio Park as many people experienced to their delight.  Mostly I didn’t video them but these are just a few of the enchanted people.

30% Choco sleeping on Lady's lap

Choco sleeping on a lady’s lap. Choco spent over an hour on her lap and she wasn’t going to leave the capybara enclosure while Choco wanted to sit on her lap. Her husband looked increasingly bored!

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.

WN Choco on our bag 09 December 2015 154


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。


中国のチョコはなくなった? 私は非常に心配です


日本の動物は中国には送らないでください。 中国の動物園はひどいところです。


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.