The Friendliest Capybaras in the World. Part One: Momiji’s Family 世界で最もフレンドリーなカピバラ。モミジ 家族

Anyone who loves capybaras will enjoy spending time with the capybaras at Nagasaki Bio Park.

Just like humans they all have different personalities and characters.

There are three families of capybaras in the herd at Nagasaki Bio Park. Those of Momiji, Hinase and Maple. The great Donguri was Momiji’s mother, and Hinase’s and Maple’s grandmother. Only one capybara, Zabon, is not descended from Donguri. Her mother was Aki, Donguri’s sister.

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When Choco and Doughnut were babies in 2013.  With Macaroni, Ayu’s son, yawning in the background.  Choco is resting his head on Doughnut

Momiji’s Family are my favourites:  the neutered males Choco and Doughnut born in 2013, and their sister Aoba who is one year younger. Momiji’s family are very sensitive and intelligent; this is what draws me to them. They seem to respond to me on a more emotional level and because of their sensitivity they often suffer more than other capybaras which makes me want to help them and make them feel better.

When they were yearlings Choco was the dominant of the two brothers. However, a year later Doughnut had become the dominant of the two with a slightly larger morillo. Interestingly, after their big fight in 2017, which was the first fight that Choco won, Doughnut’s morillo seemed to almost disappear while Choco’s morillo had grown. As Choco began mating his morillo grew even larger. In the wild, the dominant male capybara tends to have the biggest morillo and a large morillo is considered indicative of the dominant male capybara in the herd.

Choco is highly intelligent and pioneers many new behaviours. I have written a blog about him and he has become famous with people coming from as far away as Australia and America to meet him. He solved the problem of being a junior capybara in the hierarchy by bypassing hierarchy altogether and going straight to what he wanted. If it was food he wanted he went into the monkey house and ate the monkey’s food. Amazingly the monkeys accepted him but every other capybara who tried to copy Choco’s behaviour was chased away from the monkey house. At other times when he is hungry Choco climbs up on his hind legs and knocks over the bowl of swan pellets on the bamboo stall or steals a branch of bamboo.

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Choco helping himself to pellets.

 

Choco was the first capybara who worked out how to open the gate to the capybara enclosure. Sadly, the handles on the gate have been changed to round handles which a capybara’s mouth cannot grip so poor Choco is no longer able to open the gate and go out and graze on the grass which is an essential part of a capybara’s diet but which the capybaras at Nagasaki Bio Park never have access to.

Changing the handles on the gate was a very misguided move on the part of the Bio Park as the visitors were enchanted watching Choco open the gate: they found it much more exciting than watching capybaras eat watermelon. From an Animal Welfare perspective it would have been much better to allow those capybaras who want to escape and eat grass, to go out for five or ten minutes and graze on nutritious grass before bringing them in. The capybaras are sometimes hungry and it is very important for animals in captivity to have some control over their lives. Grazing animals need to be able to eat when they are hungry, not when the humans who control their lives give them their two meals a day. Grazing animals have not evolved over millions of years to eat two meals a day. Having to beg for bamboo and compete with other, possibly more aggressive, capybaras for that bamboo, and often being taunted or teased by the visitors who hold out the bamboo and then pull it away just as the capybara goes to eat it, is not a solution to how to feed these wonderful and emotionally sensitive animals.

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Choco snuggled up to Marc to read the news on Marc’s smartphone.  He looked quite depressed when he realised how humans behaved.

The frustration of no longer being able to open the gate changed Choco’s personality. At first he became much more aggressive. His brother Doughnut is usually the more aggressive of the two brothers and frequently used to challenge Choco to a fight. Choco’s response was either to turn his back to deflate the situation or if they did fight, the fight was very brief with Choco running away and always coming off worse with a few injuries. However, after the gate issue, when Doughnut challenged him Choco took Doughnut on. A horrible fight broke out and Doughnut suffered badly. His two upper front teeth broke off at the root and he had many deep wounds. These days, denied the challenge of opening the enclosure gate, Choco often seems depressed and spends much time just sleeping. He has also lost a bit of weight.

Animal Welfare is a vitally important issue when it comes to wild animals in captivity. It is essential that keepers are well-trained in Animal Welfare and Animal Behaviour and understand the behaviour of animals in their care from an animal’s perspective. Every behaviour expressed by an animal is meaningful. Unfortunately, Animal Welfare is in its infancy in Japan. I am told it was only added to the curriculum of the zookeeper courses in Japan very recently. This means that the more senior keepers often have no understanding of advances in Animal Welfare Science, and the junior zookeepers when they get jobs working in zoos do not have the authority or confidence to change the prevailing ethic. Mr Ban, a leading zookeeper at Omuta Zoo (sometimes spelt Omuto) in Fukuoka is on record as saying that Japan (and no doubt Asia as a whole even more so than Japan) lags behind the West with regard to Animal Welfare, and that the Japanese do not understand animals; they think animals are cute but nothing more. I suspect this is true of people in many other countries as well including America.

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Choco has a very penetrating gaze.  He insisted that he did not touch the purple rucksack full of food which had mysteriously fallen onto the bench.

Choco has a very pleasing, laid back charm and he is absolutely fearless. When the senior capybaras would not allow neutered males into the Onsen bath Choco pioneered climbing up into the large wooden channel which carries the warm water to the Onsen bath; after that many other junior capybaras were able to enjoy a warm water bath by copying Choco and climbing into the water channel.

Doughnut has a completely different personality to brother Choco. Of all the capybaras in this herd he seems the most in touch with his wild side and the least trusting of humans. I have nicknamed him the Samurai capybara. Like his mother Momiji he is very intense and is prepared to fight over food or access to capybaras in separate enclosures. He is nervous of the keepers and the vet and where some capybaras will roll over hoping to be petted when a crowd of noisy schoolchildren gather around them Doughnut takes fright and tries to run away.

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Doughnut by the capystove in winter

Perhaps because of his mistrust of many humans he and I have developed a bond and he often comes to me to be petted.

After Choco and Doughnut had the big fight I mentioned above, and Doughnut lost his two front teeth (capybara teeth are hypsodont teeth which means they keep growing throughout the capybara’s life) it took just over two weeks for his teeth grow back. Doughnut completely lost his confidence after losing this fight and his teeth. Feeling very vulnerable Doughnut spent the next two days hiding in the large pond. Capybaras feel much safer in water and when danger threatens they will usually run to a pond or river.

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Despite the wound, Doughnut looks blissful as I pet him.  His raised emotional state from the fight made him even more responsive to being petted interestingly.  I have noticed with capybaras that they are especially responsive when their emotions have been aroused by some completely different activity like fighting, eating or the sexual excitement of visiting Toku the male.

However, on the third day the pond was emptied for cleaning and Doughnut had nowhere to seek refuge. The timing couldn’t have been worse for Doughnut as the pond is very rarely emptied. In five years of visiting the Bio Park this is only the second occasion I have witnessed the pond cleaning.

Doughnut resolved this by seeking refuge beside Maple. Last year Doughnut had shown great interest in Maple and tried to mount her but she rejected his advances. He often slept near her and seemed to like being close to her and in her company.

To add insult to injury, the very next day Choco mated with Maple. He then continued to do so on many more occasions. Following this Choco spent a lot of time with Maple. They often shared a food trough and slept next to each other.

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Doughnut felt very vulnerable after losing his teeth and being badly wounded by brother Choco and sought refuge in the pond.

It took Doughnut about 11 weeks to recover after their big fight. Doughnut regained the weight he lost when he couldn’t eat properly. He has also regained his confidence although he no longer challenges Choco. At about this time I noticed Doughnut and Maple together and Choco seemed happy to leave them alone together. Perhaps Choco is frustrated when Maple is not as interested in mating with him as he would like and wants Doughnut to share that frustration!

Soon after this their love lives became much more complicated and interesting! Before the big fight Doughnut had mated with Butter, Maple’s daughter and the most junior member of the hierarchy. Ten days ago Choco, frustrated with his lack of progress with Maple, also mated with Butter. The expression on Maple’s face as she watched Choco mate with her very junior daughter was priceless; one of absolute surprise. She immediately pursued Choco into the pond and mated with him!  Doughnut followed them. Choco mated with Maple many times over the course of about forty minutes. Then Doughnut began to mate with Maple! Surprisingly, Choco didn’t seem to mind at all. He climbed up onto Capuchin Island and watched intently; he looked as if he was enjoying being a voyeur. Since then Choco and Doughnut have been very friendly and affectionate towards each other.

From time to time when Choco or Doughnut are with Maple, Momiji will swim over as if keeping an eye on her boys behaviour, and the boys swim away as if knowing their mother does not approve of their liaison with Maple. Normally Hinase seems to prefer Choco to Doughnut. When Doughnut was mating with Butter, Hinase swiftly swam over, her eyes blazing and chased Butter, who she particularly dislikes, to the far side of the pond. As leader of the herd Hinase might disapprove of the neutered males mating. However she seems to tolerate Doughnut mating with Maple more than Choco mating with Maple. It is almost as if she finds some relief from her frustration at not being able to mate with Toku, the breeding male at Nagasaki Bio Park who is in a separate enclosure, by watching Doughnut mating with Maple. When Choco and Maple are together in the pond she often comes over to keep an eye on them and sometimes she chases Choco away.

Aoba was Momiji’s only baby in 2013 and Aoba was very spoilt. Momiji is a fantastic mother and every time Aoba demanded milk Momiji would get up and walk somewhere quiet so Aoba could suckle. Aoba was exceptionally demanding and frequently Momiji would toss her head in frustration and bark but she never denied Aoba milk. Most capybaras are weaned at about four months of age, but Aoba carried on drinking Momiji’s milk until she was eight months old. Consequently she is a bigger capybara than her brothers Choco and Doughnut. Additionally, she sometimes drank Maple’s milk even though I was told that as a first-time mother Maple had not produced enough milk for her own babies, Butter and Cookie. However, Aoba never let Butter or Cookie drink her mother, Momiji’s, milk! Capybaras go in for Alloparenting which means any lactating female capybara will allow any other mother’s babies to drink her milk. Aoba is more than twice Butter’s size now that they are three years old, thanks to all that milk.

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Aoba relaxing

Aoba may well be the most intellectual of the capybaras at Nagasaki Bio Park. I once saw her pick up a bamboo stick with two paws to eat it, like a human or monkey would. I have never seen any other capybara do this. Capybaras would normally pick up sticks with their mouths. I assume she has watched how the humans and capuchin monkeys in her enclosure pick up sticks. Being so spoilt she grew up thinking she was the most important capybara in the world. It must have come as a shock to her, after she was weaned, to discover that she was near the bottom of the hierarchy. Her clever solution to this problem was to try and make friends with all the senior capybaras in the herd so that she could share their privileges and their food trough. This worked with Donguri, who was always very generous and unaggressive. Sometimes it worked with Maple but I never saw her near Hinase. Donguri was the most playful adult capybara I have ever seen and Aoba and Donguri frequently played together in the pond. Aoba has inherited her grandmother’s playfulness.

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Aoba on the left playing with Milk in the pond.  Aoba is very playful like her grandmother the great Donguri

However, because Aoba is so sensitive she is often nervous of being attacked and tends to sleep and relax slightly apart from the other capybaras. She would like to be aggressive and sometimes in the past was perhaps too aggressive which resulted in some painful deep bites. I thought she might one day be the leader of the herd at the Biopark. In her first year she was the only capybara aside from Donguri who showed an interest in everything that was happening in the capybara enclosure. I think her confidence has been dented and her rival for the number one spot is Ryoko, Hinase’s largest daughter and a very large capybara.

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Aoba looking seductive

Ryoko is the only other capybara in the main herd who knows how to open gates. They inherit their intelligence from their father, Toku, who also knows how to open gates and is highly intelligent but he is in a separate enclosure. However Ryoko, like her mother Hinase, is a very clever capybara who knows not to be aggressive unless she is certain of winning so her confidence has never been undermined. Hinase’s family seem much more tough-minded than Momiji’s family.

Hinase is number one in the hierarchy and Momiji is number two. Amazingly they appear to be the best of friends and often sleep together and play together in the pond.

It is interesting to watch Momiji when she wants to intimidate another capybara. Her body arches and stiffens slightly, she raises her head and and her hair bristles, there is an intensity about her body language which is difficult to describe. The other capybaras, when they wish to intimidate, just nibble, nip or bite to get their message across. Momiji is a small capybara and has done very well to achieve such a high ranking in the herd. I believe she has done this by the force of her personality.

These capybaras never bite which always amazes me as not everyone treats them the way they should be treated. Sometimes hordes of noisy schoolchildren descend on them, screaming, shouting and running around and they never seem to be frightened, even when a large number of these children crowd around them and poke sticks up their noses. Some people taunt them by holding out a branch of bamboo and then just as the capybara goes to eat it the human pulls the bamboo out of reach, and then repeats this over and over again. As one wise American mother told her child “once you show the bamboo to the capybara you must feed the capybara”. Other people flick the sleeping capybaras ears or nose continually, seemingly amused that the capybaras ears wriggle or nose wrinkles in response to this rude and thoughtless behaviour. I want to say to these stupid, ignorant people “how would you like it if somebody did that to you when you are trying to sleep?”.

Many people are kind and gentle and loving with the capybaras. However, unlike many zoos in Britain which request that people do not run, shout or scream and behave with respect towards animals, there is no control over how people behave in the capybara enclosure. As a result the older capybaras often prefer to stay away from the visitors. Fortunately, the capybara enclosure was designed with this in mind so the capybaras can escape to the islands, or into the pond, or to an area of the enclosure which is off-limits to the visitors.

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Capybara Enclosure Design. Husbandry and Welfare of Capybaras in Zoos and Captive Environments

When designing an enclosure for capybaras it is essential to provide them with an environment in which they can display their natural behaviours. The two most important requirements for a capybara enclosure are a large pond/pool and access to grazing.

The size of the enclosure should be about one acre or half a hectare for a herd of about 15 capybaras. The size required for the enclosure will depend to some extent on the size of the herd. The landscape of the enclosure should reflect the natural habitat of a capybara living in the wild as far as possible.

pond Donguri eating bamboo

The Large Pond with Trees and Bushes

Capybaras are semiaquatic, and can be very energetic and playful in water, therefore a large pond or pool should be provided. Capybaras are grazing animals, grasses form the staple of their diet, which means they should have access to grass.

 WN Aki escapes to eat grass August 2012

This five year old female capybara escaped from her enclosure where there was no grazing in order to eat grass. Interestingly capybaras often know what food is best for them. The capybaras at one zoo do not like the carrots which are given to them and try to escape in order to eat grass.

It is also essential that the keepers who care for the capybaras have a deep interest in and understanding of capybara behaviour and animal welfare. They must spend time observing the capybaras so that they can recognise behaviours and understand the relationships between the individual capybaras in order that they can manage the herd to ensure the best welfare and to avoid aggression. They should observe the condition of the capybaras including their size/weight, the condition of their coat/hair, how much they eat, how they chew (for possible tooth problems) and any signs of abnormal behaviours so if there are any developing health issues these can be treated at an early stage.

empty pond who stole

This view of the pond when it was emptied for cleaning, gives an idea of the placement of stone ledges and stepping stones which allow the capybaras easy access in and out of the pond, and also provide ledges where the capybaras can rest partially submerged in water.

Capybaras in captivity may be fed pellets and appropriate vegetables to ensure that their dietary requirements are met. There should be a feeding station for each capybara to ensure that every capybara gets enough to eat. If capybaras in a herd are competing for food this will lead to aggression. Once aggression becomes established in the herd it is extremely difficult to eradicate. For this reason every effort should be made to ensure that feeding does not involve competition between capybaras for food. The keepers may need to sit beside and guard some capybaras at the bottom of the hierarchy if they are not getting enough to eat because other larger and more senior (in the hierarchy) capybaras intimidate them and push them away from food.

In their natural habitat in South America researchers have not found evidence of a female hierarchy. However, in captivity where the capybaras are living in a confined environment and sometimes competing for food or facilities, a strong female hierarchy develops. The keepers will need to be observant and ensure the well-being of capybaras at the bottom of the hierarchy. Male capybaras are hierarchical and can be very aggressive to other males including their own adult male offspring.

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Capybaras love to mark  their territory by rubbing their anal scent glands on twigs, as in this photo, branches or other vegetation

If a capybara is so badly injured that he/she has to be taken out of the herd and put in a separate enclosure to recover from the wounds, it will almost certainly be impossible for that capybara to be reintroduced back into the herd. The capybaras most likely to attack an injured capybara are those immediately below the injured capybara in the hierarchy.

Enclosure Enrichment: the purpose of enrichment, both environmental and cognitive, is to ensure the well-being of animals in captivity. Enrichment allows animals to make choices and lead interesting and stimulating lives, and to be able to exhibit their natural behaviours.

The physical enrichment of the enclosure should include:

A large pool or pond. The capybaras should have easy access to this pond or pool. Depending on the number of capybaras the size of the pond/pool should be at least 12 feet/4 m x 24 feet/8 m. Most of this pond should be 4 feet/1.3 m in depth, but some areas should be at shallow depths of 1 and 2 feet, .3 and .6 m, so that the capybara can rest partially submerged in water, and also easily get in and out of the pond/pool. When the weather is hot capybaras go into the water to thermoregulate, i.e. to keep cool. They also seek water as a refuge from danger. In captivity a capybara might be being chased and therefore seek refuge in water. Additionally, if the capybara is injured in some way, perhaps his/her teeth have broken at the root (capybaras have hypsodont teeth which means they grow continually. These broken teeth will grow back in just over two weeks) and the capybara feels vulnerable, he/she will seek refuge in water.

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Capybaras are very playful and energetic in the pond or pool. It is essential that this pond/pool is large enough for capybaras to exercise and express their natural behaviours.

Shelter: the enclosure must provide some shelter from sun, heat and rain. This could be provided by trees and bushes, or by a man-made structure.

Enclosures in Cooler Climates: Capybaras prefer a temperature of at least 24°C or 75°F. If the capybara enclosure is in a climate with cold winters than the capybaras must be provided with a sheltered hut with heating to prevent suffering and frostbite.

Grass: it is essential for capybaras to have access to grazing. Capybaras’ digestive system has evolved over 30 million years for a diet of grasses which are high in fibre but low in calories. In their natural habitat, in South America, capybaras eat grasses, aquatic plants, sage and chew on the bark of bushes and trees. For the health of capybara teeth it is essential that they have access to coarse materials to chew on in order to control the growth of their teeth. Several capybaras in captivity have died because their diet was based on soft foods which did not ensure the health of their teeth. It is essential for animals in captivity to exhibit their natural behaviours and grazing is one of the most important behaviours for a capybara. Capybaras did not evolve to eat two meals a day; they must be allowed to have access to grazing/appropriate food when they are hungry.

Juanita eating grass

It is important that capybaras can graze when they feel hungry.

Diet: the capybara diet should be augmented by the provision of appropriate pellets. If there is insufficient grass to provide enough grazing daily than green leaf vegetables such as cabbage, lettuce etc can also be fed. The vegetable should not have a high sugar content. Capybaras should not eat carrots as carrots have too high a level of Vitamin A and this can cause liver damage. Many capybaras in Japan suffer an early death due to liver damage. Capybaras should also not eat fruit because of the high sugar content. A probiotic like Benebac or Bio 3 can be given to treat mild cases of diarrhoea.

Appropriate Vegetation: this should include branches or palm fronds and perhaps leaves which provide soft bedding for the capybaras to lie on when resting or sleeping. Capybaras like to mark their territory by rubbing their anal scent glands over vegetation such as branches and palm fronds. As mentioned above it is essential for the health of capybara teeth that they have access to coarse vegetation, like branches or palm fronds, to chew on. Some capybaras like to chew on stones. These stones must be hard so that they do not disintegrate in the capybaras mouth when chewed, and get swallowed causing injury to their digestive tract.

It is essential that animals in captivity are able to express their natural behaviours. It is also very important that the visiting public should see how animals behave in their natural habitat.

Romeo swimming

Capybaras are very graceful as they swim in this large pool.

The lives of animals in captivity can be very boring and boredom leads to stress. To avoid boredom and stress the enclosure should provide cognitive and occupational activities to stimulate the minds of the capybaras and encourage physical activity to keep the capybaras healthy.

These enrichment activities can include the appropriate vegetation mentioned above and other natural objects which can be manipulated or played with. Feeding can also be done in a way that provides entertainment for the capybaras. For example, branches of bamboo can be positioned in different parts of the enclosure so that the capybaras have to rise up on their hind legs to eat it or pull it down. Branches of bamboo can be tied to the bushes overhanging the pond/pool so that the capybaras can entertain themselves trying to rise up to eat it. Food pellets can be scattered, or hidden in different areas for the capybaras to find.

The activities described above would also provide cognitive enrichment as the capybaras engage in problem-solving to achieve their food reward.

Sensory and Social Enrichment: capybaras are a highly social and gregarious species. A capybara should never be housed alone, on its own in an enclosure. This would be extremely stressful and would lead to changes in the capybara’s behaviour and personality. Stress levels can be determined by analysing faeces for the presence of stress hormones like cortisol. Extreme stress can lead to changes in the brain structure and an early death.

As capybaras are extremely social and very responsive to tactile stimulation, it is important that the zookeepers responsible for the capybaras pet them and are very friendly. Initially the capybaras may not trust the keeper, so the keeper first has to gain the trust of the capybara in order to get close enough to pet the capybara. To achieve this the keeper could offer food or perhaps a branch of bamboo, and when the capybara comes close to eat the food the keeper can slowly and gently begin to pet the capybara. Capybaras love to be petted; their hair rises, they lie down and roll over and vocalise. Capybara vocalisations include the most beautiful sounds. Positive human animal relationships are vitally important for the well-being of the capybaras living under the care of humans.

If visitors to the zoo will be able to enter the capybara enclosure it is essential that there is an area of the enclosure which is not accessible to these visitors. This is to allow the capybaras to go somewhere private otherwise they may become stressed if they cannot choose whether they wish to be in the company of human visitors or not. Also, ideally, there should be an island in the pond to which the capybaras can go to escape humans.

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Capybaras Enjoy Mud.  They enjoy rolling in mud and it is good for their skins.

Mud: capybaras love to roll in mud. It is good for the condition of their skin and can help to exterminate mites or ticks. Mud provides capybaras with enjoyment and relaxation. Rolling in mud is a natural behaviour which capybaras should be able to exhibit in a captive environment.

Animal Welfare is the foundation of what all good zoos do. We can provide good Animal Welfare by taking a behaviour-based husbandry approach to how we manage animals. That means we do not focus on what we are providing for the animals. Rather we focus on what the animal’s behaviour is telling us that the animals need. We do this by recognising that all of the behaviours which an animal exhibits are meaningful, and therefore helpful in informing us about what that animal may need.

Behaviour based husbandry incorporates all elements of good animal welfare: good health, psychological well-being, and the expression of natural behaviours. In addition to the design and enrichment of the enclosure, we must also ensure positive human animal relationships. It is essential that the enclosure and husbandry provides the animal with choices so that the animal has some control over its life, its environment and its daily routines, as it would in the wild in its natural habitat.

Positive human animal interactions are the foundation of providing good welfare for the animals we manage. These animals rely on us to provide for all their needs: food, shelter, enrichment, mating opportunities and companionship. If we are unresponsive, negative, unpredictable or aggressive in our interactions with our animals we can create significant stress for them.

At all times it is vitally important that we are aware of how what we do may affect our animals.

The basic Animal Welfare protocol is The Five Freedoms:     

Freedom from hunger and thirst: by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.

Freedom from discomfort: by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.

Freedom from pain, injury or disease: by prevention through rapid diagnosis and treatment.

Freedom to express normal behaviour: by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.

Freedom from fear and distress: by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

The Five Welfare Domains: However, The Five Freedoms protocol was developed in 1965 to rectify the suffering of farm animals, i.e. animals used in agriculture. The Five Freedoms protocol simply emphasises what is our basic duty but does not go far enough to ensure the well-being that we would want for animals kept in captivity and in zoos. We need to provide animals with enjoyable and positive experiences. To address this, David Mellor, an Animal Welfare Scientist working in New Zealand, has developed The Five Welfare Domains. The aim of The Five Welfare Domains is to ensure that animals have positive physical and emotional experiences. This is essential for good animal welfare and the well-being of animals in captivity.

In 2009 Vicky A. Melfi, Zoologist and Animal Welfare Scientist, Identified three primary gaps in our knowledge and approach to zoo animal welfare. Two of these are relevant to capybaras:

One: We tend to focus on indicators of poor welfare and assume that a lack of poor welfare is equivalent to good welfare. However, a lack of poor welfare does not necessarily indicate good welfare.

Two: it is important that we look at an animal’s housing and husbandry from the perspective of what that species needs and not from a human perspective.

Zoos have traditionally built hygienic enclosures that meet human requirements in terms of cleaning and sweeping and housing structures, but which do not provide for the psychological needs of the animals they are designed to house.

In good zoos today these traditional enclosures have been redeveloped or modified as we recognise that animals have very different behavioural priorities to people. Understanding Animal Behaviour is a vital component to providing appropriate housing and husbandry. It is important to remember that the expression of these behaviours has evolved over millions of years and conferred evolutionary success and indeed the survival of this species.

“Theory of Mind”: Capybara Intelligence

There is a long tradition of humans trying to demean animals, their intelligence and emotions. Nowhere is this more insidious than in the field of ethology/animal behaviour. Fortunately this is slowly changing partly due to more sophisticated research technology and partly due to the enlightened research and books by eminent ethologists like Marc Bekoff, Jonathan Balcombe and Jane Goodall among others.

In his important book “Beyond Words. What Animals Think and Feel“, Carl Safina lambasts those ethologists who deny “Theory of Mind” to most animal species. He writes: “Theory of Mind is probably the most underappreciated (in other animal species), oft denied aspect of nonhuman minds.

Choco looking very happy trough

Choco enjoying the Onsen experience from the safety of the water channel. A behaviour he pioneered and which many of the junior capybaras now copy. (See below)

Theory of Mind has a number of different interpretations but broadly speaking it is the ability of an animal to pick up sensory cues which enable him/her to foresee a situation which is about to develop or which the animal wants to influence, and decide on a course of action that will allow the animal to control the outcome and secure a successful result. This means the animal understands what is about to happen and can work out a strategy in advance which it then puts into practice. Carl Safina writes “Theory of Mind basically means understanding that another can have thoughts and motives that differ from yours, or from another animal”. I have put more comments and explanations from Carl Safina on Theory of Mind at the end of this blog.

The following are some of the many examples of capybara behaviour I have witnessed which demonstrate Theory of Mind.

In August of 2015 Donguri injured her right hind leg. The pain was so great that she could barely walk and she often hopped on three legs. Immediately after her injury she made her way to the “hospital room” where sick capybaras are sometimes housed, and stood in the doorway waiting for a keeper to notice her plight and attend to her injury.

Donguri leg injury waits hospital room 2015

Donguri has injured her leg quite seriously. She hobbles to the “hospital room” where sick capybaras are sometimes treated and waits for the keeper to notice her plight.

This showed Theory of Mind. Donguri had a problem and she devised a solution. She knew that one of the roles the humans played in the lives of the capybaras in her herd was to tend to capybaras who were sick or injured. I assume that she had noticed a successful outcome to the humans’ treatment of some of these capybaras. So in going to the “hospital room” Donguri was asking for medical help, which she received with the arrival of the vet shortly after.

About two days later Donguri positioned herself in the centre of the petting area of the capybara enclosure and hobbled around in circles. I have never seen her do this behaviour before so I believe she was trying to attract attention to the fact that she was still suffering and needed more help or more medication.

You can see this behaviour in my video: “A Sad Capybara Story With a Happy Ending”.

As a corollary to this, when the keepers give a capybara a pill they always try to disguise it, sometimes hiding it wrapped in a bamboo leaf. I do not believe Donguri was fooled by this. On another occasion when she ate too many leaves of a bush that was toxic and vomited, I gave her a food pellet. She took the pellet eagerly but then hastily spat it out as if it was not what she had expected. She would have sensed my concern about her health as I sat beside her while she was obviously suffering. (Capybaras are very sensitive to human emotions.) The evidence suggests that she assumed I was giving her a pill to treat her illness, and she had no interest in a food pellet. She views me as a source of food, pellets and bamboo, and her behaviour when taking the pellet and then spitting it out indicated quite clearly that she had expected something other than a food pellet, and given the fact that she was unwell the obvious conclusion is that she expected treatment, i.e. a pill.

Choco in trough distant view

You can see Choco relaxing in the water channel under the white arrow on the left. In the foreground are the more senior capybaras enjoying the Onsen in the conventional manner

The capybaras at the top of the hierarchy at Nagasaki Bio Park control access to the Onsen bath. Most of the junior capybaras are excluded. The senior capybaras, who are all female, particularly do not want neutered male capybaras in their Onsen. Choco and Doughnut are the only neutered males. Choco came up with a solution to this problem and in doing so pioneered a behaviour which other junior capybaras then imitated. The hot water to the Onsen bath flows through a wooden channel, the width of which is about one foot. One day Choco decided to jump into this water channel where he could spend several hours relaxing in the hot water with his nose under the small pipe from which the water flows. He was thus able to enjoy all the benefits of the Onsen bath without attracting any antagonism from the senior capybaras.

This behaviour demonstrates Theory of Mind in that Choco was able to envisage and invent a new behaviour which would allow him to get what he wanted, i.e. relaxing in hot water, in a place which would not put him in direct conflict with the senior capybaras.

Choco is an exceptionally intelligent and creative capybara who has pioneered several new behaviours to the benefit of other junior capybaras.

He has learned how to open the gate to the capybara enclosure and often goes out to feast on any grass he can find. Some of the other capybaras take advantage of this opportunity to escape.

When he was only one-year-old and much smaller, he found himself near the bottom of the hierarchy. As he was not getting enough to eat, he started going inside the monkey house and eating the monkey’s breakfast. Surprisingly, the capuchin monkeys tolerated him but when other capybaras, Ryoko and Aoba, followed his example the monkeys chased them away. It is interesting to speculate on why the monkeys accepted Choco. There is no doubt he has an easy, gentle charm. He is very calm and fearless. The monkeys enjoy taunting and upsetting those capybaras who react the most and become most upset.

Choco in monkey house 2014

Choco coming out of the monkey house after eating the monkeys’ breakfast

“It is amazing how smart capybaras are and unlike most of Brazil’s fauna. They learn the dynamics of the traffic. They know when to stop and how to cross the streets.” Several of my friends who study Brazilian fauna have told me this. They have witnessed families of capybara trying to cross the busy streets. The capybaras wait until the traffic gives way.

“É impressionante como são inteligentes e ao contrário da maioria dos outros animais da nossa fauna, aprendem a dinâmica do trânsito, e como parar ao atravessar ruas. Já testemunhei algumas famílias tentando atravessar, paradas esperando até alguém dar passagem.”

When Marvin (a human) has to leave Romeo and Tuff’n alone in the house he separates them by putting up a barrier which divides the home in two. One capybara gets to be in the bedroom with access to the back garden and swimming pool while the other capybara has access to the living room and front garden. Tuff’n likes to play fight with Romeo but this escalates and Romeo sometimes ends up wounded. Marvin likes to give Romeo access to the back garden so that he doesn’t see Marvin leave. Romeo is bonded with Marvin and gets upset when Marvin leaves the home. Capybaras are herd animals and prey animals and if a member of the herd disappears it probably means they have been killed by a predator. Tuff’n is bonded with Romeo so as long as Romeo is around Tuff’n is happy, he is not upset if Marvin leaves the home. Tuff’n senses what Marvin is about to do and he knows Marvin will try and lure him into the front area. To avoid this he ensures that he is in the bedroom or back garden before the barrier goes up. Whether he prefers the back garden area or whether he just wants to do the opposite of what Marvin wants him to do rather than being controlled by Marvin, is open to debate. Perhaps, like most rodents, he just wants to be in control of his life rather than be controlled by humans.

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Romeo and Tuff’n want to go to the park. They are waiting here to communicate to Marvin that it is time for them to be taken to the park. They have worked out and adopted this behaviour because they can envisage an activity which they will enjoy and they know that by waiting on this mat they will successfully communicate their wishes to Marvin.

One day Marvin was working in the garage and forgot to give Romeo and Tuff’n their afternoon corn at the usual time. On leaving the garage Marvin noticed Romeo sitting by the gate into the front garden. As Marvin entered the front garden Romeo stood up on his hind legs and put his paws on Marvin’s chest. He then looked Marvin straight in the eye. As he did so Tuff’n came over and barked “Corn, Corn”. Tuff’n usually announces the arrival of corn with a vocalisation that comes across as a realistic rendition of the word “corn”.

Tuff’n likes to play with his cushion in the pool. In order to be able to reach the cushion once he is in the pool he has to drag it to the edge of the pool before he jumps in. He then jumps into the pool, swims over to the cushion, pulls the cushion into the water and plays with it. This behaviour shows how Tuff’n is able to visualise or think through in advance a course of behaviour that will allow him to achieve his aim, i.e. pulling the cushion to the edge of the pool so that he can reach it when he is in the pool.

When Elizabeth or Marvin are injured or unwell Romeo and Tuff’n sense their suffering and come over, often laying their heads on the injured area. If their humans spend the day in bed the capybaras will spend the day lying on the bed showing an understanding of the humans’ suffering and a desire to show sympathy, affection and make them feel better. Capybaras are very sensitive to emotions, both the emotions of other capybaras and to the emotions of humans. They become very upset if humans argue in their presence. They need to be sensitive to the mood and emotional state of the other capybaras in their herd in order to avoid aggression.

Deception, the ability to deceive, is also cited by ethologists as proof of “Theory of Mind”. On one occasion I was visiting Garibaldi Rous. He had been rolling in the mud and knew that he was not allowed to go inside the house when he was covered in mud. So he took a circuitous route around the garden before suddenly veering off to the left and into the house.

In all these examples the capybara knows what is about to happen and has worked out, or invented, a strategy, a course of behaviour which solves his problem and ensures a successful outcome. This is evidence of “Theory of Mind”.

Humans often judge animals by behaviours which are appropriate to the lives of humans but not to the lives of the animals they are testing. Humans would fail miserably in many of the situations in which the different animal species excel.

As Carl Safina writes, most animal species could not go about their daily life without Theory of Mind. “The term “Theory of Mind” was coined in 1978 by researchers testing chimpanzees. With an impressive lack of human insight into what could be an appropriate context or meaningful to a chimp they devised an experiment so artificial” that, as sometimes happens, the academically generated concepts failed to elicit the capabilities that the scientists were trying to investigate. (For the full description of these absurd tests please see page 244 of Carl Safina’s book “Beyond Words. What Animals Think and Feel.” As Carl Sarafina writes “any ecologist who watches free living animals feels humbled by the depth and nuance of how they negotiate the world” and how easily they evade human observation as they go about their daily lives keeping themselves and their babies alive. Many animals, like capybaras, are highly skilled in reading body language and use other senses, including a sense of smell, to detect and authenticate a situation.

Carl Safina writes “Rather than “testing” animals in contraptions and setups where they cannot be who they are, we might simply define the concept we are interested in, then watch the animals in situations appropriate to their lives. Real life behaviours and decisions cannot always be elicited under experimental lab conditions. Do animals show an understanding that others hold different thoughts and agendas and can even be fooled? Yes. It is happening all around us. But you have to have your eyes open. Lab psychologists and philosophers of behaviour often don’t seem to know about how perceptions function in the real world. I wish they would go outside and watch.”

Poor Capybara! I Thought She Was Dying With a Twig Trapped up Her Cloaca 悲しいカピバラ!小枝は肛門で立ち往生

Yuzu, lying lifelessly at the far side of her enclosure

Yuzu, lying lifelessly at the far side of her enclosure

 

Humans are slowly beginning to realise how compassionate many animal species are. Much recent research has proven just how empathetic and caring rodents are.

I have witnessed this many times amongst the capybaras at Nagasaki Bio Park. Most especially with Donguri, now number one in the herd, who is always alert to the needs and suffering of members of her herd.

Donguri Looks Very Concerned. She alerted me to Yuzu's plight by her behaviour. She walked over to Yuzu's enclosure trying to get as close to Yuzu as possible

Donguri Looks Very Concerned. She alerted me to Yuzu’s plight by her behaviour. She walked over to Yuzu’s enclosure trying to get as close to Yuzu as possible

One morning in September I was sitting beside Donguri petting her when she suddenly became very alert. I had heard nothing but Donguri must have heard a distress call from Yuzu. She got up and started walking towards Yuzu’s enclosure calling. I sensed from Donguri’s behaviour that something was wrong with Yuzu. As soon as I saw Yuzu it was obvious she was in great pain. She was rolling incessantly with a sad and very worried look on her face.

You can see Donguri’s behaviour when she becomes aware that Yuzu is suffering in this video:

 

Yuzu rolling in agony. You can see the twig quite clearly poking out from her cloaca

Yuzu rolling in agony. You can see the twig quite clearly poking out from her cloaca

She must have been calling out in distress in a frequency range inaudible to the human ear. Capybaras’ vocalisations can be outside the range that is audible to the human ear, both ultrasonic (describes sound waves that have frequencies above the upper limit of the normal range of human hearing) and infrasonic (frequencies below the limit of the normal range humans can hear, although if you are next to a capybara you can feel the vibration).

Here is a video I made of Yuzu:

Thanks to Donguri I was alerted to poor Yuzu’s suffering. As I watched her rolling in agony I noticed a small twig about one and a half inches long, about the size of a matchstick, protruding from her bottom.

Yuzu Looking Very Sad and Sorry for Herself

Yuzu Looking Very Sad and Sorry for Herself

She was obviously in great distress. I told the keeper and when he pulled the twig out a much longer, thicker, more knobbly piece of wood came out which had been hidden inside her anal pocket, her cloaca. It must have been very painful for her. I could see the blood from the cut caused by the twig after it was removed. I don’t know if she had eaten the twig, though I would have thought her teeth would have ground it up.

Yuzu spent most of Monday rolling in pain. I felt so sorry for her alone in her misery and agony. I wished I could comfort her and I think Donguri felt the same way as I did

Yuzu spent most of Monday rolling in pain. I felt so sorry for her alone in her misery and agony. I wished I could comfort her and I think Donguri felt the same way as I did

Capybaras like to mark their territory by sending out chemical messages, rubbing their anal glands over the branches of bushes. Perhaps as she was marking a bush the twig got trapped in her bottom and broke off. Or perhaps she liked the sensation of the twig going into her anal pocket since there are no male capybaras in her enclosure for her to mate with. This is of course pure speculation.

Capybaras have such expressive faces. You can see in Yuzu's eyes and the expression on her face how unhappy she is

Capybaras have such expressive faces. You can see in Yuzu’s eyes and the expression on her face how unhappy she is

Yuzu spent most of Monday rolling and in agony. The keeper thoughtfully put some hay down for her to lie on. Donguri spent the day sleeping beside Yuzu’s enclosure, as near to her as she could be.

Yuzu spent the entire next day, Tuesday, lifeless at the back of her enclosure. I was certain she wouldn't survive... But You Never Know with Capybaras

Yuzu spent the entire next day, Tuesday, lifeless at the back of her enclosure. I was certain she wouldn’t survive… But You Never Know with Capybaras

On Tuesday morning when I arrived Yuzu was lying lifeless in the far corner of her enclosure. She remained like this, completely lifeless for the entire day. I really thought she would not survive. Then much to my joy and relief at about 3 pm on Wednesday she slowly got up and started nibbling fallen leaves and then went over and ate some of her breakfast. Over the next few days she gradually improved.

Donguri Spent the Day by Yuzu's Enclosure. She would like to have been able to go into the enclosure and be beside Yuzu

Donguri Spent the Day by Yuzu’s Enclosure. She would like to have been able to go into the enclosure and be beside Yuzu

If it had not been for Donguri I would never have noticed that twig protruding from Yuzu’s bottom, and I’m certain the keepers would never have noticed it as they are extremely busy with their other duties and chores. The piece of twig that was visible was very small. The much larger and more painful piece of twig was hidden from view inside poor Yuzu.

I have been pondering on the fact it took Yuzu two days to recover. I believe that, quite apart from the physical pain, she must have been suffering a great deal psychologically. Nobody, of course, has done any research on how sensitive emotionally capybaras are, but it does seem as if they suffer a great deal when stressed and I am certain Yuzu found this very stressful.

Yuzu made a full recovery.

ゆずは今健康である

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“Capyboppy” by Bill Peet. How many people who say they love this book have actually read it? カピバラ「capyboppy」の物語

Capyboppy

Capyboppy. Photo by Bill Peet

 

Bill Peet, aged (I’m guessing) about 17, persuades his parents to let him have a Capybara as a pet. Capyboppy arrives, and immediately settles in, acting for all the world as if he owns the place…easily the most important member of the family. He chews everything and terrorises the cats, but his captivating charms ensure he wins the hearts of the family. Bill’s mother is particularly captivated, she pampers him with showers in the morning and in the evening he sits on her lap and watches TV with the family. At weekends he plays with Bill’s friends in the swimming pool, the centre of attention.

 

Capyboppy Hates Being Banished to This Shed at Night. No Capybara Should Ever Sleep Alone at Night. In the wild they would be surrounded by their herd.

Capyboppy Hates Being Banished to This Shed at Night. No Capybara Should Ever Sleep Alone at Night. In the wild they would be surrounded by their herd.  Drawing by Bill Peet.

 

The only part of his daily ritual he doesn’t like is when he is dispatched on his own to the garage to spend the night alone. Capybaras are exceptionally social animals, and a capy in the wild would never sleep alone.

 

Capyboppy on Bill's Mother's Lap, Looking So Happy, Loving the Attention.   Drawing by Bill Peet

Capyboppy on Bill’s Mother’s Lap, Looking So Happy, Loving the Attention. Drawing by Bill Peet

 

When summer comes Bill goes away with some friends. The parents, finding that a wild animal can make a slightly unruly pet when its closest friend abandons it, decide to make an enclosure for Capyboppy in the garden where he can spend the summer. Banished from the house, and the socialising he needs, he becomes depressed.

 

"These Plants Are Tasty"  Drawing by Bill Peet

“These Plants Are Tasty” Drawing by Bill Peet

 

One day a young boy, a friend of the family, comes over to visit and goes out to feed Capyboppy some grass. In his confused and depressed state Capyboppy bites him. Bill’s younger brother gives Capyboppy a ferocious kick which sends him to the bottom of the swimming pool where he stays a considerable time. Eventually he surfaces and crawls to a patch of grass where he remains motionless.

The family ignore him despite the fact that he has suffered a serious wound as a result of the kick. No effort is made to check up on him or to take him to a vet, even when he has not moved at all for hours. Two days later the family belatedly wonder if he is still alive!

Although the boy who was bitten does not in any way hold Capyboppy responsible, the family decide they can no longer keep him and he is sent to a zoo. Despite the obvious signs that Capyboppy is being bullied by the hippos who share his enclosure, the family leave him there. The book ends at this point. Capyboppy is eventually attacked and killed by a guanaco. This all takes place in the 1960s.

 

Capyboppy Enjoying His Shower

Capyboppy Enjoying His Shower. Drawing by Bill Peet

 

Bill Peet went on to do artwork for Disney, and his talent as an artist can be seen in the many excellent drawings featuring Capyboppy, which completely capture his engaging personality and his exceptionally expressive capybara face.

 

Capyboppy enters his new home. The cats are terrified! Capyboppy completely ignores them.

Capyboppy enters his new home. The cats are terrified! Capyboppy completely ignores them. Drawing by Bill Peet

 

I enjoyed the first half of the book, but overall I found it deeply depressing and I am stunned that so many people claim to like it and recommend it for children.   Perhaps they only remember the first part of the book, the happy times for Capyboppy.    Otherwise they cannot possibly be true animal lovers.

 

Capyboppy loves swimming with Bill's friends. He is the centre of attention.

Capyboppy loves swimming with Bill’s friends. He is the centre of attention. Drawing by Bill Peet

 

The moral of the story: if you are going to have a pet and most especially if you are hoping to turn a wild animal into a house pet, do your homework. Make sure you understand its needs and be certain you will still find it enchanting when it grows out of its small, cute baby phase. Most of all, are you the sort of person who will act responsibly and always put your pet’s needs first, before your own needs and desires.

The Peets appear to have given little thought to Capyboppy’s emotional well being as he grew older and larger; ultimately abandoning him to his fate at the zoo in LA despite the warning signs that the hippos with whom he shared the enclosure would never provide him with the companionship he desperately needed.

 

"This Handbag Is Tasty"

“This Handbag Is Tasty”. Drawing by Bill Peet

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Yasushi, The Most Magnificent Capybara. We Humans Failed You. 康、最も壮大なカピバラ。私たち人間は. 人間はあなたを失敗しました。私たちはあなたを殺した。

It breaks my heart to see that honest, sweet, trusting look in your eyes, when so many people failed you. 

Yasushi looks so appealing. He wants us to be his friends but we failed him. What does that say about us as humans

Yasushi looks so appealing. He wants us to be his friends but we failed him. What does that say about us as humans

Yasushi, the most fabulous capybara in the world has just died (December 19, 2013) and I am absolutely devastated. He should never, ever have been put alone in a cage as if he was an art object and not a living creature with feelings and emotions.  It was absolutely unforgivable.

Yasushi died of depression.  Such a tragic end for such a sweet, gentle, trusting capybara.

He was the most wonderful and outstanding capybara. He always worried about the rest of the herd when they escaped from the enclosure. He would walk along the boundary fence trying to keep as close to them as possible with a very concerned look on his face, trying to give them as much support as he could.

Capybaras are intensely social animals, and Yasushi was one of the most friendly and gregarious capybaras at Nagasaki Bio Park. For three years he was surrounded by adoring females who loved to be with him, to rub their heads on his face or on his back, to nuzzle  him under the chin, which he absolutely adored, to nibble him tenderly, and to make love to him. Thousands of visitors came to see him; they loved petting him, watching his amazingly long hair rise till he looked like a giant puffball. He was so responsive to their pampering, such a rewarding capybara to spend time with. I don’t understand how anyone could put Yasushi into an enclosure all alone and not realise how much he would suffer.

It breaks my heart to see that honest, sweet, trusting look in his eyes, when so many people failed him.  Doesn't he have the sweetest eyes. Kyoto zoo built a special enclosure for him, so I'm sure they had the best intentions for him. It seems hard to believe that they wouldn't have also understood his emotional needs.

It breaks my heart to see that honest, sweet, trusting look in his eyes, when so many people failed him. Doesn’t he have the sweetest eyes.
Kyoto zoo built a special enclosure for him, so I’m sure they valued him at some level, perhaps they even thought they had the best intentions for him. It seems hard to believe that they wouldn’t have also understood his emotional needs. I think perhaps there is a need for those in authority in Japan to be more receptive to new information.
This is a photo of Yasushi taken at Kyoto zoo before he died on December 19.

As I lay awake last night I found myself wondering what Yasushi thought when he found himself all alone in solitary confinement. He must have felt extreme anguish looking out at the visitors peering at him, wondering why they didn’t want to come over and pet him. “Why are the people keeping their distance, don’t they care about me any more, why don’t they want to be near me?”

Our Video: 

In Honour of Yasushi We Will Never Forget You  康の名誉中 私たちはあなたを決して忘れないだろう

昨 晩、私は動物(そして、人間のコミュニケーション)について、本を読みました。 動物のコミュニケーションについて書かれる全部の本のために、あなたは、コミュニケーションが動物と人間にとってひどく重要であると理解するでしょう。 しかし、一人で生きている動物は、通信する相手を誰も持っていません。 動物から彼の人生のそのような重要な側面を奪うことは、きっと彼らを滅ぼします。 私が理解することが完全にできないものは、一人でヤスシを構内に入れるという決定をした人々がそれが感情的に彼の上に持つ破壊的な影響をなぜ理解しなかっ たかということです。 それは残酷でした。 私は、彼らが残酷であると思わないと確信します。 人生における私の任務は、このような人々が動物の感情を理解しなければならなくて、彼らの世話において動物のたちへの愛と尊敬で行動しなければならないと いうことです。

Last night I read a book about animal (and human communication). For a whole book to be written about animal communication you will understand that communication is desperately important to both animals and humans. But an animal living all alone would have no one to communicate with. To deprive an animal of such an important facet of his life would surely destroy him. What I completely fail to understand is why the people who took the decision to put Yasushi into an enclosure all alone did not understand the devastating effect it would have on him emotionally. It was cruel. And yet I am sure they do not think they are being cruel. My mission in life is that people like this should understand animal emotions and act with love and respect towards the animals in their care.

 

これは、私が昨年ヤスシについて私のブログに書いたものです – 彼は驚くほどの派手な長い髪と穏やかな性格に育ち、寛容な個性をもっている男性として素晴らしいカピバラです。 私は、彼が新しい血によるボス・カピバラとしてとって代わられるとき、何が彼に起こるかについてわかりませんでした? 私は彼が女性のカピバラと交際することに関して少なくとも1人の女性と大きな構内(エンクロージャー)を持つことを望みました。そうすると、彼は年老いてから、幸福に老後を生き抜くことができます。
私は、長崎バイオパークと京都市動物園がこれを読んだこと(読んでくれること)を願います。

This is what I wrote in my blog about Yasushi last year:  Yasushi is a magnificent capybara to have as the breeding male, with his amazingly flamboyant long hair, and gentle, tolerant personality. I wonder what will happen to him when he is replaced as boss capybara by new blood? I hope he will have a large enclosure with at least one female for company, so that he can live out his years joyfully into old age.

I wish the Bio Park and Kyoto Zoo had read this.

Yasushi loved being nuzzled and caressed by the female capybaras. The female capybaras loved nibbling Yasushi and rubbing their heads against his nose, lips and across his back. They all wanted to mate with him, especially Aki, Donguri and Momiji. Aki was powerful and jealous and it always surprised me that any of the other capybaras ever produced babies, she guarded access to him so fiercely.

Yasushi loved being nuzzled and caressed by the female capybaras. The female capybaras loved nibbling Yasushi and rubbing their heads against his nose, lips and across his back.
They all wanted to mate with him, especially Aki, Donguri and Momiji. Aki was powerful and jealous and it always surprised me that any of the other capybaras ever produced babies, she guarded access to him so fiercely.

私は知っています。多くの日本人が理解していないそれらのこと、そしてアメリカでは少なくともある程度の数の人たちが意見を述べる用意ができています。そ して私は、それらのもの(こと)が変わる、カピバラが単独で決して収容(動物園などに)されないようにと固く決意しています。(行動していくこと)

甘やかされているヤスシ。 彼が満足することと、楽しむことに富を得て、私は彼の目がその快楽にふける輝きが好きです。 彼は、素晴らしく表情豊かな顔がありました。Yasushi being pampered. I love that sybaritic glint in his eyes as he gives himself a rich to enjoying the pampering. He had a wonderfully expressive face.

甘やかされているヤスシ。 彼が満足することと、楽しむことに富を得て、私は彼の目がその快楽にふける輝きが好きです。 彼は、素晴らしく表情豊かな顔がありました。Yasushi being pampered. I love that sybaritic glint in his eyes as he gives himself over to enjoying the pampering. He had a wonderfully expressive face.

I often daydreamed of Yasushi coming to live with us when his time as breeding male was over.   In August 2012 on our first visit to the Bio Park I  met Yasushi  and fell under his spell. When I heard Yasushi had gone to Kyoto Zoo and was living all alone I used to fantasise that I persuaded the zoo management to let me spend the day with Yasushi in his enclosure pampering him and providing him with some companionship. This would have made a much more interesting “exhibit” for the visitors as Yasushi rolled and frolicked with pleasure as I petted him. Much more entertaining than watching a sad and lonely capybara desolately picking at his food and going in and out of his small pond in a disenchanted way.

Yasushi often looked vulnerable, as if something frightening had happened to him in the past. I rarely saw him with the relaxed and happy look that most capybaras express when they are resting stop However Yasushi adored to be pampered and petted, and he was at his happiest rolling on his side, with his head thrown back, his lips slightly parted and his teeth showing in an expression of sheer bliss. His response and his ecstasy were so manifest that nothing gave me greater pleasure than to make him happy.

Yasushi often looked vulnerable, as if something frightening had happened to him in the past. I rarely saw him with the relaxed and happy expression that most capybaras have when they are resting. However Yasushi adored to be pampered and petted, and he was at his happiest rolling on his side, with his head thrown back, his lips slightly parted and his teeth showing in an expression of sheer bliss. His response and his ecstasy were so obvious that nothing gave me greater pleasure than to make him happy.

私は、日本の人々に動物には感性と感情があって、知的であると思って欲しいです。 我々とカピバラのような哺乳類には非常に類似した脳構造があります、そして、彼らは同じ神経化学物質を持っています。

Sniffing Aki's Bottom, Something He Loved to Do!

Sniffing Aki’s Bottom, and rubbing his morillo on it.  Something He Loved to Do!

.私は京都市動物園が許せません。私は1か月前に彼らにヤスシについて助言をしました。彼らは最善をつくすと言いましたが、カピバラを一頭で飼育していること自体間違いです。最近の日本は何でも資本主義でお金儲けばかり考え、大事なことを忘れています。日本という国、そしてあまりにバカな日本人が多く許せません。どんなことでも資格があればプロとみなされ、技術があっても資格がなければ仕事することが許されない社会など間違っています。そこには単なる国の金儲けが存在します。あまりにいいかげん、あまりにプロ意識のなさ、お金中心に考える人たち、すべて許せません。

My friend, Koji Anderson, contacted Kyoto Zoo and explained to them that Yasushi would need a companion otherwise he would die of loneliness. Unfortunately the zoo ignored his advice. I wish they had understood that Yasushi would become very depressed and have nothing to live for if he was kept all alone in solitary confinement, like a prisoner.

Yasushi was such a Thoughtful and Concerned Capybara. He seemed to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders, responsible for the happiness of his herd. I felt that he felt he could never really relax except when he was being pampered. He always had to be sufficiently alert in case some danger or accident befell one of the other capybaras and he would need to take charge. If any of the capybaras escaped from the enclosure he became extremely worried. An anxious look spread over his face and he would walk along the boundary fence staying as close to the escapees as possible, ready to give them his support if they became frightened. He was a true gentleman.

Yasushi was such a Thoughtful and Concerned Capybara. He seemed to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders, responsible for the happiness of his herd. I felt that he felt he could never really relax except when he was being pampered, or frolicking in the pond with the females and making love.  He always had to be sufficiently alert in case some danger or accident befell one of the other capybaras and he would need to take charge.
If any of the capybaras escaped from the enclosure he became extremely worried. An anxious look spread over his face and he would walk along the boundary fence staying as close to the escapees as possible, ready to give them his support if they became frightened.
He was a true gentleman.

He was such a special capybara, he deserved to live out his life with love and dignity.

Little baby Io nuzzling his daddy Yasushi. Yasushi always had time for Io and loved to play with his little son in the pond. He would even break away from his lovemaking, how many humans fathers would do that. Io used to nibble Yasushi's ear which Yasushi loved. He would go into paroxysms of bliss, his hair raised and sink beneath the water, looking completely out of it so much pleasure did Io's nibbling give him. Io seem to know that Yasushi loved to have his ears nibbled.

Little baby Io nuzzling his daddy Yasushi. Yasushi always had time for Io and loved to play with his little son in the pond. He would even break away from his lovemaking, how many humans fathers would do that. Io used to nibble Yasushi’s ear which Yasushi loved. He would go into paroxysms of bliss, his hair raised, and sink beneath the water, looking completely out of it so much pleasure did Io’s nibbling give him. Io seemed to know that Yasushi loved to have his ears nibbled.

I used to sing to Yasushi when I pampered and petted him. I hoped that he would remember my voice and recognise me. I hope he liked my singing!

Yasushi was always ready to share his watermelon with his little son Io.  Donguri is Io's mother. When Yasushi took his afternoon nap Io would come over and join him, often clambering over his nose and waking him up. Yasushi never protested, he was a very tolerant capybara. There seemed to be a special bond father and son, and Io often sought out Yasushi's company; he was always welcomed.

Yasushi was always ready to share his watermelon with his little son Io. Donguri is Io’s mother. When Yasushi took his afternoon nap Io would come over and join him, often clambering over his nose and waking him up. Yasushi never protested, he was a very tolerant capybara. There seemed to be a special bond between father and son, and Io often sought out Yasushi’s company; he was always welcomed.

He produced the most wonderful babies for the Biopark;  they have inherited his outstanding characteristics, and respond to being petted more than the other capybaras and have his amazingly long hair. In particular Kin, Gin, Syu and Autumn.

He was such a gentleman with such good manners sharing his watermelon in a way that Toku, the new Boss Capybara, never would.

靖は幸せです。人々は彼を甘やかす。Yasushi in heaven. He so enjoyed being pampered.

靖は幸せです。人々は彼を甘やかす。Yasushi in heaven. He so enjoyed being pampered.

Yasushi Relaxing after his Mud Bath

Yasushi Relaxing after his Mud Bath

Yasushi was always surrounded by adoring female capybaras in the pond, caressing him, nibbling him, wanting to make love to him. He must have been devastated to find himself all alone in a small enclosure in Kyoto Zoo. This video is public.

Yasushi smiling.  He so loved to be pampered and the visitors to the Bio Park so loved pampering him because he was so responsive.  康は微笑む。訪問者は、靖ペットが好きだった。彼はとても反応が良かった。これは訪問者に莫大な報酬だった。

Yasushi smiling. He so loved to be pampered and the visitors to the Bio Park so loved pampering him because he was so responsive.    I’m certain he never smiled in Kyoto Zoo. 康は微笑む。訪問者は、靖ペットが好きだった。彼はとても反応が良かった。これは訪問者に莫大な報酬だった。

Romantic Capybaras. Nagasaki Bio Park ロマンチックなカピバ     

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86MXl0-BUIM

I want people in Japan to understand that animals have feelings and emotions and are intelligent. Mammals  (capybaras are mammals, humans are also mammals) all share very similar brain structures, that means Capybara brains are similar in many ways to human brains,  and their brains have the same neurochemicals.私は、日本の人々に動物には感性と感情があって、知的であると思って欲しいです。 我々とカピバラのような哺乳類には非常に類似した脳構造があります、そして、彼らは同じ神経化学物質を持っています。

Animals should be treated with love and respect;  they are our friends not our servants.   They are not entertainment; they are not here to entertain us.  (Manifesto for International Animal Protection Group):

Animals suffer when their needs and expectations and desires are not met. All mammals (humans and animals) have the same structures in a part of the brain called the limbic system, which is primarily responsible for our emotional life and the formation of memories. Mammals also share the same neurochemicals that are important in processing emotions. Animals may well experience some things more intensely than humans.

We should treat them with respect and love. They deserve no less. No human should cause suffering to an animal in the pursuit of their own interests.

Animals are not objects. Animals are not property.   We do not own them. There has been a paradigm shift among scientists who study ethology, animal behaviour. With the aid of new technology like functional MRI, scientists have come to understand that animals have emotions and feelings and are intelligent.

We know animals suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, they suffer the same symptoms that humans do.

Animals have a point of view.

Tread lightly when stepping into their lives and their homes/habitats.

Animal manifesto: “Treat us better or leave us alone”.

Most animals have done very well without us.

すべての日本の学校の中で学習のカリキュラムに取り入れるべきであるは言っています。I think this book should be required reading on the curriculum of all schools in Japan.   http://www.amazon.co.jp/動物の命は人間より軽いのか-世界最先端の動物保護思想-マーク・ベコフ/dp/4120036537

すべての日本の学校の中で学習のカリキュラムに取り入れるべきであるは言っています。I think this book should be required reading on the curriculum of all schools in Japan.
http://www.amazon.co.jp/動物の命は人間より軽いのか-世界最先端の動物保護思想-マーク・ベコフ/dp/4120036537

This is what I wrote last year, it is never to be: Magnificent Yasushi. I hope he is voted ‘Most Popular Capybara in Japan’ one day; he so deserves it with his charismatic personality, gentle nature, exceptionally expressive face and amazingly long hair.

There must be a better future for retired Boss Capybaras than solitary confinement.

Everything about him was exceptional;  I wish he had had many more children.

The Biopark have said that Yasushi will be commemorated in the grave at the Biopark and have a memorial service (at least I think that’s what they said):   Message from Bio Park  他園での死因や飼育方針などについては当園はコメントする立場にありませんが、当園では死亡した飼育動物のために慰霊碑を建立し、定期的に慰霊祭を開催して供養を行っております。本のお薦めにつきましては、ご意見として承りました。コメントありがとうございました

I replied: “Thank you very much. Yasushi was such a magnificent capybara, I just wanted him to be honoured.  He produced such wonderful babies, Kin, Gin, Syu and Autumn – so gentle, who loved to be petted as much as Yasushi did, and they inherited his beautiful long hair. Perfect capybaras for the Bio Park.  I hope Syu will carry his genes to future generations.

Thank You Very Much Koji Anderson for the Japanese Translations

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Kiss the Critter, “Cheap Laughs, and Bullying”. Nobody Who Cared about an Animal Could Ever Submit It To a “Kiss the Critter” Event.

Sweet, Gentle, Trusting Capybara

Sweet, Gentle, Trusting Capybara

In the summer of 2012 an animal that I care very deeply about was subjected to a “Kiss the Critter” event. At the time I was heartbroken and horrified. I expressed my concerns very forcibly. I couldn’t watch the video, I was in tears. The animal looked so confused and distressed. How could anyone do this to a sweet, gentle, loving animal.

At one point one of the men smeared his face with lipstick and kissed the animal, covering the animal’s face with lipstick. It was grotesque, and crude and horrible. Nobody who cared about their animal could possibly subject them to this heartless and demeaning experience.

Last night I came across this article in Psychology Today by Marc Bekoff. In it he condemns everything that I was horrified by.

What depresses me is that we live in an age where people pretend to be animal lovers, but in reality they view animals as entertainment, and very often the animals suffer as a result.

Animals experience very similar emotions to humans. In the part of the brain which processes emotions, the limbic system, all mammals (humans and animals) have the same structures. Mammals also share the same neurochemicals that are important in processing emotions.  We should treat them with respect and love. No human should cause suffering to an animal in the pursuit of their own interests.

Animals experience very similar emotions to humans. In the part of the brain which processes emotions, the limbic system, all mammals (humans and animals) have the same structures. Mammals also share the same neurochemicals that are important in processing emotions. We should treat them with respect and love. No human should cause suffering to an animal in the pursuit of their own interests.

Kiss the Critter and Kiss a Pig Contests, “Cheap Laughs, and Bullying”

As Marc Bekoff  says, and he says it applies to other animals as much as pigs “These inane contests demean everyone involved and should be stopped right now… Stunts based on contempt and ridicule…. These sensitive {animals}… Surrounded by shrieking…. promoting animal exploitation for cheap laughs. The animals have no understanding of what is happening to them. {Animals} are sentient beings who are capable of experiencing fear and pain. Just as none of us would appreciate being held up in front of a jeering crowd, neither do animals. Bullying is bullying, no matter who the victim is.”

Animals suffer when their needs and expectations and desires are not met. All mammals (humans and animals) have the same structures in a part of the brain called the limbic system, which appears to be primarily responsible for our emotional life and the formation of memories. Mammals also share the same neurochemicals that are important in processing emotions, so these arguments from analogy, as scientists call them, are extremely strong and valid ones. I.e. any differences between humans and animals are differences of degree rather than kind. And animals may well experience some things more strongly than humans.

Animals are not objects. We do not own them. There has been a paradigm shift among scientists who study ethology, animal behaviour. Scientists have come to understand that animals have emotions and feelings and are intelligent. We should treat them with the love and respect they deserve.

This is an article that Marc Bekoff wrote for Psychology Today:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/animal-emotions/201311/kiss-pig-contests-cheap-laughs-and-bullying

“Kiss a Pig Contests, Cheap Laughs, and Bullying

These inane contests demean everyone involved and should be stopped right now

Published on November 8, 2013 by Marc Bekoff, Ph.D. in Animal Emotions

Given that schools rightfully aspire to zero tolerance of bullying, they should be at the forefront of encouraging students to be respectful to each other, to their teachers and to all those around them, human and nonhuman alike. So, why are schools (and other organizations) holding events such as “kiss a pig” contests to reward students for reading or to motivate them in their fundraising? These spectacles send the reckless message that stunts based on contempt and ridicule are not only condoned but also encouraged.

Whether or not a student or teacher is well liked, it’s clear that the person who gets the most votes and has to kiss a pig is considered a “loser.” In “kiss a pig” contests, these sensitive animals are surrounded by shrieking kids and the pigs have no understanding of what is happening to them. The piglets often scream in fright, urinate and struggle to escape.

Schools should recognize that these kinds of incentives encourage students to be openly disdainful of their teachers and also foster derision and disrespect toward both educators and pigs. Instead of mocking pigs, students could learn a lot of positive lessons about kindness and compassion from them.

Pigs are loyal friends and amiable companions. Smart and inquisitive, they enjoy exploring and uncovering new and interesting things. They dream and also enjoy listening to music and getting back rubs. Calling someone “a pig” should actually be a compliment.

Pigs are sentient beings who are capable of experiencing fear and pain. Just as none of us would appreciate being held up in front of a jeering crowd, neither do pigs. Bullying is bullying, no matter who the victim is. The teacher who would stop a child from being picked on should extend the same compassion toward animals. Educators must recognize the danger of instigating group antipathy (the so-called “mob mentality”) and how doing so prompts otherwise kind people to behave badly.

If students were taught how personable pigs really are, I feel certain these contests would be stopped once and for all. Young people can learn to appreciate pigs for the truly remarkable beings they are. Pigs offer valuable lessons in forgiveness, resilience and confidence, and I know this firsthand from a pig I met a few years ago named Geraldine.

Geraldine was a rescued potbellied pig living at a lovely sanctuary called Kindness Ranch. Although she had known nothing but cruelty before being rescued, she was personable and clearly interested in assessing me for acceptance as a new friend. Once I passed muster and she trusted me, she demanded nothing but companionship and belly rubs. Geraldine had every reason to be hostile and fearful, but she put her bad past behind her and moved forward with optimism and cheer. The idea of subjecting Geraldine or any of her kin to derision or discomfort is utterly unthinkable.

Links between animal abuse and human abuse are well-known

In light of the devastating consequences of bullying, schools are doing the right thing to take steps to curb anti-social behavior. And those steps must include extending kindness to everyone, including other animals, as there are well-established links between abusing nonhuman animals and bullying humans (see also and “Animal Cruelty and Antisocial Behavior: A Very Strong Link“).

With so many innovative and humane ways to motivate kids, schools are failing themselves and their students by promoting animal exploitation for cheap laughs. These sorts of events should be stopped immediately and the reasons for doing so should be made very clear. Both humans and other animals will benefit from these discussions.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Marc Bekoff is a former Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and is a Fellow of the Animal Behavior Society and a past Guggenheim Fellow. In 2000 he was awarded the Exemplar Award from the Animal Behavior Society for major long-term contributions to the field of animal behavior. Marc is also an ambassador for Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots program, in which he works with students of all ages, senior citizens, and prisoners, and also is a member of the Ethics Committee of the Jane Goodall Institute. He and Jane co-founded the organization Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals: Citizens for Responsible Animal Behavior Studies in 2000. Marc is on the Board of Directors of The Fauna Sanctuary and The Cougar Fund and on the advisory board for Animal Defenders, the Laboratory Primate Advocacy Group, and Project Coyote. He has been part of the international program, Science and the Spiritual Quest II and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) program on Science, Ethics, and Religion. Marc is also an honorary member of Animalisti Italiani and Fundacion Altarriba. In 2006 Marc was named an honorary board member of Rational Animal and a patron of the Captive Animals’ Protection Society. In 2009 he was named a member of the Scientific Expert Advisory Panel of Voiceless, The Animal Protection Institute and a faculty member of the Humane Society University, and in 2010 he was named to the advisory board of Living with Wolves and Greenvegans and the advisory council of the National Museum of Animals & Society. In 2005 Marc was presented with The Bank One Faculty Community Service Award for the work he has done with children, senior citizens, and prisoners. In 2009 he was presented with the St. Francis of Assisi Award by the Auckland (New Zealand) SPCA. Marc is also on the Board of Directors for Minding Animals International.

This is a link to Marc Bekoff’s homepage:

http://www.literati.net/authors/marc-bekoff/

 

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