You will probably fall in love with the capybaras at Nagasaki Bio Park. They are so affectionate and friendly and patient. Since they are living as a herd, bonding with their own species, they do not suffer the stress that many pet capybaras suffer.
As everybody who loves animals knows, your relationship and pleasure in the company of an animal is much greater if you know who the animal is and what it’s personality and character are like. Every animal is an individual, with a different personality, just as every human is. I find it insulting to animals not to identify them whenever possible. Obviously viewing animals in the wild it is unlikely you will know anything about them but every animal in a captive situation deserves to be recognised.
Donguri is the leader of the herd at Nagasaki Bio Park. What first drew me to Donguri was her gentle, non-aggressive nature. This was in 2012 and at the time she was not part of the hierarchy because she didn’t like to fight. Her sister Aki was number one in the hierarchy and sensing that the larger Donguri was her chief rival she went out of her way to intimidate Donguri and make her life very difficult. After Aki’s tragic death in October 2012 Donguri automatically assumed the mantle of leadership that she so rightly deserved. She is a very wise and compassionate capybara and her behaviour is always fascinating to watch.
She is a natural leader, always alert to the suffering of other capybaras in her herd. Every day, several times a day, she visits the capybaras who are in separate enclosures. Capybaras are amongst the most gregarious animals and to be alone in an enclosure can be stressful and frustrating. Donguri knows this and does her best to mitigate their unhappiness. My impression is that she does not have a high opinion of humans. She knows they control her life and she knows that if she was in control the lives of the capybaras would be much better. There would be a large area of grass for them to graze on all day and the male capybara, Toku, would be part of the herd for all the females to enjoy!
Donguri keeps a watch on everything that happens in the capybara enclosure including the activities of the humans. She has a very penetrating gaze and a natural aura of power. She is the 5th oldest capybara in Japan at 11 years old.
Donguri is so gentle when I feed her. She brushes her soft lips across my hand as she gathers up the pellet. I think she senses how pleasurable this is for me. She is very proud and won’t come over to beg for pellets. She waits for me to come to her. Sometimes I jangle the pellet container, when I know she is hungry. But she still won’t come over as if to show me what a proud and noble capybara she is. If I want to feed her I should go to her, she says. Although on other occasions she fixes me with her beautiful and very penetrating gaze, and walks towards me singing.
Capybaras sniff each other’s bottoms to gather information. What they smell can tell them many things about the capybara such as her health and reproductive status, including whether she is in estrus. Donguri was always smelling the bottoms of other capybaras in her herd. She was always a very interested and curious Capybara. Every time a capybara passed in front of her Donguri would sniff that capybaras bottom. She showed much more interest in the other capybaras and sniffed many more bottoms than the other capybaras in the herd. Just one of the many way she was such a good leader, keeping track of the health and well-being of her herd
For more about Donguri, I have written several blogs including this one:
Donguri, The Perfect Capybara. どんぐり、パーフェクトカピバラ
I am heartbroken. Donguri died peacefully in the early morning of June 17, 2016. She remained as leader of the Bio Park herd right up to the end of her life. I will never forget her. I learned so much about capybaras and animal behaviour from her. She was a truly exceptional capybara.
Hinase is joint number two in the Bio Park hierarchy with Maple. She loves being in the company of the male capybaras, a trait she has passed on to her daughters Ryoko, Keiko and Sumere. As she is at the top of the hierarchy she gets plenty to eat at breakfast time and so does not bother much with the bamboo and pellets offered by the visitors (there is always hay available for the capybaras to eat but they prefer bamboo and pellets), and like Donguri she is usually too proud to beg. Because of this she often sits away from the main petting area where she will not be disturbed by humans. My impression is that like Donguri she does not hold humans in high regard. However she does love to be petted and is probably the most responsive capybara in the herd. I have put her at number two because she is more involved in community actions and affairs than Maple.
Along with Donguri she will often bark or make the strange gruff call to Toku that signifies time for action by the whole herd. She spends quite a large portion of her day by Toku’s enclosure, singing to him, rubbing her morillo on the entrance gate to his enclosure, and communicating with him using chemical messages by rubbing her anal scent glands or depositing faeces and urine.
After Donguri, she is one of my favourite capybaras. Donguri was her grandmother and the late Fujiko was her mother. Her father was Takeshi.
Maple is pregnant and is due to give birth any day now. She has a natural affinity with people and will sit calmly for a very long time patiently hoping to be fed while people pet her or take endless photos. She is extremely patient! Where other capybaras will move away when they have had enough petting, Maple will quietly sit beside you. She instinctively knows how to attract people to feed her and where to sit to ensure she gets the most food of all the capybaras. Consequently she is the fattest capybara I have ever met. Unlike Hinase and Donguri she seems to like people and they are drawn to her, even though it must be obvious that she doesn’t need any extra food!
It is her aggressive nature that has put her near the top of the hierarchy. She is the most aggressive of the capybaras towards other capybaras, and I was afraid she would challenge Donguri for leadership of the herd, but fortunately this has not happened. She hates Choco and regularly chases him away from the petting and feeding areas and into the pond.
I have a soft spot for Momiji, partly because she is such a fantastic mother. All her babies are very demanding but I have never seen her deny them milk, unlike Maple who was always more interested in being fed than feeding her babies, Cookie and Butter. Aoba was an exceptionally demanding baby and sometimes Momiji would throw up her head in exasperation and bark at Aoba’s endless demands for milk. Unlike Maple who liked to nurse her babies next to the pellet dispenser knowing that visitors would find this activity very cute and buy her extra pellets, Momiji would always lead Aoba off to a quiet corner of the enclosure away from the humans.
Momiji is a very intense capybara who does everything to the best of her ability. She is a wonderful lover and daughter. Donguri is her mother and when Donguri was going through some health problems and when she suffered a very painful leg injury Momiji would sit close to her. She was the only capybara who stayed with Donguri in the pond where Donguri could rest her very painful leg. She puts the same intensity of effort into being fed by the visitors which can sometimes slightly alarm them – poor Momiji! She is probably the fittest of the capybaras because of her restless nature.
Zabon is a favourite with the keepers. She is one of the least aggressive capybaras and rather than fight for food she eats the hay that is available all day but which is spurned by all but the hungriest capybaras. She has been watching Choco stealing food and has learnt that this is a good strategy for getting extra bamboo! She is a large capybara, with a long body, and is recognisable by her long nose, the longest of the capybaras in the herd. Her eyes are very similar to Maple. She likes people and would often come and sit next to me. Her mother was Aki and her father was the great Yasushi.
Gin is a troublemaker! She loves to bite everything including her sister, the cables powering the electric wheelchairs, everything and anything. She can on occasion be very aggressive, I have even seen her challenge Maple who is much bigger than her when they were vying for the attention of Goemon, a male capybara who is Zabon’s brother. She loves to be petted as did her sister Kin. She attacked her sister Kin so seriously that Kin had to be removed from the herd. However this worked out very well for Kin who has now moved to a sister zoo, Mongol Village, to be with Kenta, a male capybara, where they hope to start a family. Gin means silver in Japanese, and Kin means gold.
I can always recognise Gin by the look in her eye! Her mother was Fujiko and her father was Yasushi.
Choco is a character and everyone loves him. Fed up with being at the bottom of the hierarchy at feeding time he cleverly came up with an alternative strategy. At breakfast time he went to Monkey Island, climbed inside the monkey house and ate the monkey’s food until he grew too large to fit through the door! People often wonder why the monkeys tolerated this. Having watched the capuchin monkeys for hours I believe that they most enjoy harassing those capybaras who get most upset. Just like humans, if the capybaras don’t get upset there’s no point in harassing them. Choco is used to being chased and bitten by other capybaras but he doesn’t let that stop him, and I suspect he was the same with the capuchin monkeys and just calmly ignored their attempts to harass him. The end result is that most of the time they just watch him eat their food and only very occasionally does he get chased off the island. However, when Ryoko and Aoba tried to go into the monkey house they were instantly chased away. The price Choco has paid for spending so much time on Monkey Island is that he has become a partial outsider in the herd which results in him suffering many more attacks by the senior capybaras in the hierarchy.
Choco quite blatantly steals bamboo from under the noses of the keepers. He often knocks over the bowl of duck and swan pellets that sits on top of the bamboo stall, thereby scattering the pellets all over the ground for him and other capybaras to eat. When the keepers go over to feed the swan in the pond Choco will go over and sit beside them. He gently bites them if they neglect to give him his fair share of pellets! He is easily identifiable by the second toe from the outside of his left front foot which is slightly split in two.
Maple hates him and will chase him to the furthest reaches of the enclosure and into the pond. On one occasion Maple chased him away from the feeding and petting area and right round to the far side of the pond where Choco jumped into the pond, and swam back to the main feeding area and jumped out. Maple stood on the edge of the pond at the far extremity of the enclosure looking for him, completely unaware that he was back in exactly the place she had chased him away from. Even Donguri doesn’t particularly like him. You can see all the scars in his coat from being bitten by other capybaras but he doesn’t allow the other capybaras to intimidate him, so he has not had to be separated from the herd and put in another enclosure for his own protection as happened to Kin and Yuzu.
He often sits on a bench, a strategy Maple also adopts, to attract the attention of visitors with food. He will then sit in their laps which some visitors love and others find scary. Choco knows that if he is sitting on a human’s lap no other capybara will attack him and he will have the bamboo all to himself. Choco has inherited his father, Toku’s, intelligence.
Clever Capybara Is Almost Successful 賢いカピバラ。ほぼ成功した https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=to739UXsc54
Choco in the monkey house: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=erQ2wFPZDyU&list=UU6vvD9LkAvhQzItm1kCtCfg
Doughnut sleeping on Choco. Momiji’s 2 baby brothers.
Doughnut is Choco’s brother, Momiji is their mother. Choco and Doughnut are both neutered males and they are the only male capybaras amongst the herd in the main enclosure. Doughnut was a more anxious baby than Choco and often followed Momiji around, calling plaintively for her if he lost sight of her. Perhaps because of this he has never adopted Choco’s clever strategies for getting more food and is noticeably smaller than Choco. However now that he is 2 years old he is bigger than the younger capybaras and will chase them away from his food. Of all the capybaras he is the one who most often tries to escape from the enclosure.
When the Bio Park opened one morning the keepers noticed that the gate had been opened and three capybaras were missing. One of the capybaras had made his way down to the entrance gate a 20 minute walk away. I am certain that Doughnut was one of the escapees and I can’t help feeling it was Choco who opened the gate to allow them to escape. His and Choco’s father, Toku, worked out how to open the gate to his enclosure.
Ryoko is the largest of Hinase’s three female babies and was the most aggressive as a baby ensuring she got more to eat which is why she is the largest of the three. However these days she does not seem to be particularly aggressive. She, Sumere and Keiko spend a lot of time beside Goemon’s enclosure calling to him, rubbing their morillos and sending chemical messages. Like her mother Hinase, Ryoko also loves to be petted.
Keiko is now the most aggressive of the three sisters and has given Aoba some deep bites even though Aoba is larger. She is the smallest of the three sisters perhaps because she expends so much energy fighting and communicating with Goemon rather than eating. Her coat is a more reddish colour than her other two sisters, something she has inherited from her father Toku whose coat is noticeably reddish.
Sumere, like her sisters, spends a lot of time trying to attract Goemon’s attention. She has more black about her face than Ryoko and Keiko.
Aoba is an interesting capybara. She also has inherited Toku’s intelligence and as a rather spoilt “only child” she is very confident and pushy, in the nicest possible way of course. Everyone expected her to become a rather aggressive capybara, but she is not aggressive towards other capybaras. Most capybaras are weaned at about 4 months of age but Aoba kept on drinking Momiji’s milk until she was 8 months old! Thanks to all the milk Momiji gave her she has become a larger capybara than Keiko and Sumere who are 4 months older than her.
She understands the importance of networking and tries to be friends with the capybaras at the top of the hierarchy. She spends a lot of time playing with Donguri in the pond and she uses this relationship to share Donguri’s food trough which ensures that she doesn’t get chased away by other senior capybaras. Donguri is very tolerant. Curiously, Maple is not usually friendly on land and if Aoba comes over to sit beside her Maple will usually chase her away and even give her a gentle bite if she doesn’t get the message. However, towards the end of the summer I noticed Aoba and Maple playing happily together in the pond, so her strategy appears to be working. I have never seen her with Hinase. Last year when Aoba was a baby she decided that I was sufficiently high ranking that she should ingratiate herself with me. When I was petting Donguri she would come over and nuzzle me which was not at all to Donguri’s liking, so Donguri would roll over on top of Aoba forcing her to move away!
Since she is still a low ranking capybara she relies on visitors to feed her and pursues them very aggressively, biting their clothes if she doesn’t feel she is getting the bamboo she deserves. She, like Choco, often sits on a bench and climbs into visitors laps for the protection which humans offer and to ensure that she gets all the bamboo on offer.
She often visits Goemon and Toku although not as frequently as Hinase’s three daughters. Her father is Toku and she has inherited his eyes and his reddish coat, and also his intelligence. Some people think she will be a future number one in the hierarchy, although at present she does not seem to have the compassionate, community minded nature that Donguri has.
Butter is a favourite of mine. She would often come and sit beside me, partly for the protection I afforded. She is not at all aggressive. Being at the bottom of the hierarchy she is frequently attacked by the other capybaras when she competes for food. So rather than beg for food from the visitors she spends a lot of time on the islands grazing on whatever green vegetation she can find and eating hay. She loves to be petted. Neither she nor Cookie, her sister, have shown much interest in male capybaras even though they are slightly older than Aoba.
Cookie is probably the cutest capybara. She has had problems with her teeth and often has to be hand fed by the keepers to ensure she gets enough to eat. Because of this she spends a lot of time hanging around the keepers’ bamboo stall waiting for titbits and being petted. She loves to be petted. She is feistier than her sister Butter and despite being the smallest capybara in the herd she is very clever at stealing bamboo from much bigger, more senior capybaras. She runs off with it but the problem is she can’t eat it while she is running. She has inherited Maple and Yasushi’s (her grandfather) short nose which makes her look especially cute. She is Butter’s sister, but smaller than Butter, and Maple is her mother. Toku is their father.
Toku is the Boss Capy as the breeding male is called. He lives in a separate enclosure in order to control the breeding programme. He is highly intelligent and worked out how to open the gate to his enclosure. He is a handsome and playful capybara and every day the herd of female capybaras come to visit him singing loudly. He often sings back to them. Life is very frustrating for him as you can imagine. Sometimes he expresses this frustration with loud barks. Then he will jump up and run around the enclosure several times. Toku gets much more attention from the females when Goemon is away probably because Goemon’s enclosure is closer to the area where the female capybaras hang out. Goemon was born into the Biopark herd so he is too closely related to be mated with the Bio Park females. I therefore find it interesting that the female capybaras seem so intent on mating with him. I would have expected that they would have sensed that they were too closely related to mate.
Goemon and Io
Goemon and Io are both un–neutered males who were born at Nagasaki Bio Park. Goemon is Zabon’s brother. Aki, Donguri sister, was their mother and Yasushi was their father. Io, whose mother is Donguri, usually lives in an enclosure at the top of the hill away from the main petting area. Here he is safe from Goemon’s attacks. Goemon lives in an enclosure next to the main enclosure and attracts a lot of attention from the females. When there are no females hanging around his enclosure he acts like a typical male and starts showing off. He barks loudly several times and makes several long, gruff calls of frustration. Then he prances about squeezing his anal pocket in a very stylised way and playing and marking any bamboo or palm fronds that are in his enclosure, making as much noise as possible and behaving in a very ostentatious way. When he and Io, Donguri’s son and also a male, were in adjacent enclosures they used to fight and on one occasion Io was quite badly injured. Goemon seems more aggressive than Io, who has probably inherited his mother Donguri’s pacifist nature. You would think Io would move away from the fence so that he wouldn’t get injured. But males will be males and the challenge of battle overcame good sense.
Io is quite shy and doesn’t like a lot of attention from humans. When he was a baby, Donguri used to spend a lot of time with him on Capuchin Island away from the humans and he probably sensed her low opinion of humans. Every day Donguri spends a long time as close to his enclosure as she can get calling to him.