Stories about Clever, Entertaining, Amusing and Intelligent Capybaras. カピバラの面白くて面白い話

These are some of the interesting and amusing capybara behaviours I, or my friends, have witnessed. I have captured all the behaviours that I personally have witnessed on video:

I have friends in Argentina who rescued a baby capybara from her mother’s womb after hunters killed her mother. When my friend became pregnant her capybara, named Juanita, was the first to know. Juanita was aged about 2 1/2 years at the time and started behaving like a baby again, uttering the vocalisations she used to make when she was a baby and sucking on my friend’s finger the way she had done as a baby. My assumption, regarding this behaviour, is that this was Juanita’s way of saying to my friend “you don’t need another baby, I can be your baby again”. The capybaras I know frequently look and act as if they are jealous, often very jealous, and I suspect Juanita did not want to share my friend’s love with another baby.

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Juanita looks blissful in the arms of Juan who rescued her

 

I have friends who live with 2 capybaras, Romeo and Tuff’n. Tuff’n is highly intelligent and devises a number of interesting and amusing behaviours. Romeo is very emotional and well-behaved.

Romeo is a heart stealer. He has a look which melts my heart. It is a rather sad and bewildered look when something happens which makes him unhappy. Romeo gives this look when Tuff’n outwits him. For example, if Romeo and Tuff’n go into the bedroom together in the hopes of being petted on the bed, and as Romeo prepares to jump on the bed from the far side Tuff’n will leap onto the bed right under Romeo’s nose before Romeo has even left the ground. My heart goes out to Romeo when he gives me this look, I just want to make him happy.

 

When visitors come to my friends’ home to see the capybaras in the swimming pool, Tuff’n amuses himself by swimming alongside where the visitors are standing and splashing them with his powerful, partially webbed paw. He started doing this when he was about 4 years old. Some months later I caught Romeo in the pool practising this technique when he thought no one else was around.

 

 

Romeo and Tuff’n get a peanut reward every time they use the potty pan in the bathroom rather than marking their territory around the house with urine.

Tuff’n started going into the bathroom and onto the potty pan and pretending to “potty” (defecate) by dancing around to make a loud, very audible noise as his toes clattered against the metal pan, in the hopes of deceiving the humans into thinking that he is “performing” and giving him a reward. He now gets a double reward for initiative! But unlike humans, and especially human children, he doesn’t take advantage of this by continually dancing around on the potty pan in the hopes of endless rewards. Some days he doesn’t do this behaviour at all.

WN scent marking capybara straddling plant for a blog

Scent marking behaviour in capybaras is more common in males than females, but during courtship males and females mark with equal frequency and use both glands. A typical marking sequence for males involves rubbing the morrillo against a shrub or twig then straddling the plant, pressing the anal pocket onto it and sometimes simultaneously urinating on the plant.

 

Rodent species mark their territory with urine; it is the equivalent of a business card and lets other capybaras/rodents know many useful things about their health, status, reproductive state, etc. It is also a way of marking their territory. Some repetitive marking in “inappropriate places” may be a sign of insecurity as the capybara tries to establish his authority in an area/territory (for example the bed) where he feels vulnerable because his priority there is under threat.

Having watched the humans enjoying life in the pool relaxing on their li–los, Tuff’n decided he wanted the same experience. A plastic li–lo would barely last a second when faced with those sharp, capybara teeth, so Tuff’n moved his cushion to the edge of the pool, jumped in, swam over to the cushion and pulled it in to the pool. He then manoeuvred his body onto the cushion and gently floated around.

 

Tuff’n loves peanuts and in the evenings a small metal bowl appears into which some peanuts are placed. When Tuff’n finishes these he gently lifts the bowl and lets it fall back onto the sofa to indicate that the bowl is empty and he wants a refill! If more peanuts do not appear Tuff’n lifts the bowl higher, and then higher still and eventually, if still no peanuts have appeared, he chucks the bowl high in the air and lets it clatter very noisily to the floor.

Here’s the video of Tuff’n cutely and patiently asking for more peanuts:

 

Choco, a neutered male capybara at Nagasaki Bio Park, pioneered a number of new behaviours. Choco was very intelligent and inventive. The senior capybaras in the hierarchy did not like neutered males (presumably because, being so closely related to the females in the herd, they should have left the herd at about 1-year-old as they would have done in their natural habitat).

In winter, Choco and other junior capybaras, were denied access to the Onsen bath by the senior capybaras in the hierarchy. In order to enjoy the Onsen experience Choco began jumping up into the wooden water channel which carries the hot water to the Onsen, where he spent long periods of time enjoying the hot water. At least 6 other capybaras who had been denied access to the Onsen started copying his behaviour.

 

Interestingly, in some other species including meerkats, it is often lower ranking males who are the most inventive. In the case of meerkats, one of the ethologists who is part of Prof. Tim Clutton Brack’s team who have spent the last 26 years observing meerkat colonies in the Kalahari desert in Africa, put a scorpion in a specially prepared plastic container, to test the cognitive abilities of meerkats. Scorpions are a favourite food of meerkats. In order to reach the scorpion the meerkat had to turn the lid of the plastic container. Most of the meerkats tried to get at the scorpion through the see-through sides of the container which had small holes. But a few clever, low ranking males, worked out how to turn the lid using the upright struts.

Prune, one of Maple's five pups chewing on a stick,

Young Prune

 

Choco learnt how to open the gate to the capybara enclosure and often went out to graze. Ryoko copied him and when she opened the gate, her younger much smaller sister would move forward to wedge the gate open before it shut, allowing Ryoko and a procession of capybaras to escape; a good example of capybara teamwork. A year later I noticed young Prune, a one and a half year-old very low ranking male, trying to open the gate. He had obviously watched Choco and Ryoko and understood exactly the technique for opening the gate, but being so young he was too small to be able to pull the handle down and step backwards pulling the gate open, all at the same time.

In this video, Choco amazes the visitors by opening the entrance gate and going out to greet them:

 

When Choco was one-year-old and at the bottom of the hierarchy and not getting enough to eat, he started going inside the monkey house and eating the Capuchin monkeys’ food. Amazingly the monkeys tolerated him, but when other capybaras tried to do this they were chased away. Choco was fearless and I wonder if this was part of the reason for the monkeys accepting him. From my observations, it always seemed to me that the monkeys taunted and chased those capybaras who reacted most and got most upset by the monkeys behaviour (rather like human teenagers might). Choco is very calm. Even when Hinase chases him Choco only moves a minimal distance and quickly returns to the spot he occupied before Hinase started chasing him. Brother Donut, by contrast, nervously jumps up as Hinase approaches and runs away and does not return.

 

 

As the senior capybaras in the hierarchy often chased Choco, he used to sleep on the laps of visitors knowing that he was safe from attack on a human lap. The visitors absolutely adored this and Choco became the most popular capybara at Nagasaki Bio Park.

 

30% Choco sleeping on Lady's lap

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

 

Unlike some species capybaras do not groom each other. However, one of the most intelligent capybaras at Nagasaki Bio Park, Aoba, understands the advantage of having “friends in high places” and tries to befriend the senior capybaras in the hierarchy. In the case of Hinase, current number 1 in the hierarchy, Aoba’s strategy has been successful. Sometimes when in the pond Aoba nibbles Hinase’s ear which Hinase finds supremely pleasurable. Hinase rolls over, her hair rising in ecstasy, and she looks absolutely blissful. I have never seen any other adult capybara nibble another capybara’s ear. Capybaras love having their ears nibbled by baby capybaras or rubbed by humans.

 

 

When Hinase received a very painful bite on her mouth she seemed to derive some relief from the pain by rubbing her morillo. Aoba noticed this and went over to Hinase and rubbed her chin back and forth over Hinase’s morillo. As reward, Aoba is now frequently the only capybara Hinase and Aoba’s mother, Momiji, who is number 2 in the hierarchy, allow into the Onsen to enjoy the warm water in winter. Hinase and Momiji sit under the Onsen shower at the entrance to the Onsen controlling access. On many days they refuse entry to all the other capybaras in the herd! When Donguri was number 1 in the hierarchy she allowed most of the capybaras to come into the Onsen.

 

 

Capybaras can be very playful and as you would expect some capybaras are more playful than others. One of the most playful capybaras at Nagasaki Bio Park was Donguri, despite being the oldest capybara in the herd at 10 1/2 years and number 1 in the hierarchy. Hinase and Momiji, the current numbers 1 and 2 in the Bio Park hierarchy, go into the pond together every day and nuzzle and play. They often ride piggyback on each other’s backs in the pond; the keepers call this “surfing”.

You can see Hinase riding piggyback on Momiji in this video:

 

Capybaras also do backwards somersaults in the pond. Sometimes the somersaults are simply capybaras being playful but sometimes this behaviour is an act of frustration or impatience, often when visitors tease the capybaras by offering them a branch of bamboo, when they are in the pond, but withdraw the bamboo as the capybara leans forward to eat it.

Hinase does a backward somersault in this video:

Male capybaras seem not to discriminate against older females, unlike human males! The male capybaras at Nagasaki Bio Park seemed to find Donguri one of the most attractive female capybara in the herd despite being the oldest capybara by several years; she was 10 1/2 years old. A friend of mine who was a capybara keeper in a zoo in France for 15 years said their “matriarch” gave birth to 3 pups when she was aged 12, and a deformed pup who did not survive, when she was 15 years old. She lived to be 17 years old.

It is very interesting how different capybaras adopt different strategies and behaviours to rise in the hierarchy or gain access to resources: food, mating rights or other rewarding experiences.

 

I have several friends who keep capybaras and rats as companion animals. From both my and their observations I would say capybaras are extremely sensitive emotionally, and compassionate. There has been a lot of rigourous scientific research showing that rats show compassion and will avoid doing something which gives them pleasure if another rat suffers a painful stimulus as a result.

When I, or my friends, have been very upset or injured their capybaras have sensed this and been extra affectionate. Capybaras seem able to sense which part of the body has been injured and is painful. If my friends are sick the capybaras they live with will spend all day on the bed beside them.

I would say that capybaras may be more compassionate and sensitive emotionally than many/most humans. Perhaps this is in part due to their higher olfactory intelligence. When we are upset our body produces chemicals, like the stress hormone cortisol, which capybaras can smell with their very superior sense of smell.

WN 40% Choco Marc's lap from video snapshot 01

Choco sleeping on Marc’s lap.  Marc felt so privileged

Humans and capybaras are distantly related; humans and rodents diverged about 75 million years ago. We are all mammals. There is evolutionary continuity between all mammal species, indeed between all animals.

The pet capybaras I know understand many words and phrases pertaining to food or activities they enjoy.

In this video Romeo and Tuff’n are asked whether they would like their corn now. Tuff’n says “yes” with an emphatic bark:

 

 

Another emotion which ethologists believe animals may experience is embarrassment. One time I was watching Cream, one of Maple’s 5 pups born on April 21, 2016. She wanted to go into the Onsen to enjoy the warm water but knew she might be chased away by the senior capybaras. So instead of climbing up the steps using the main entrance to the Onsen she decided to jump onto the wall and enter at the furthest point from the main entrance. However, she misjudged her jump and slipped unceremoniously back down to the ground. The look on her face was one of embarrassment, hoping no other capybara had noticed!

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One Of My Most Interesting Blogs: Capybara Herd Behaviour; Very Interesting Capybara Psychology カピバラ群れ行動. 水豚群体行为

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

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

SnapShot(17) JPEG WN capybaras in the wild

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Capybaras are very gregarious, social animals and they are exceptionally sensitive emotionally. Research has shown that the limbic system, including the amygdala and the hippocampus, which are important in processing emotions, is shared between all mammals, including humans and capybaras. This means that most animal species experience similar emotional responses to situations, both unpleasant and pleasant, as we humans. We share the same ancestry as all other mammals. There is evolutionary continuity among animals. All mammals share neuroanatomical structures and neurochemical pathways that are important for feelings.

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

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

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

wn donguri yawns marc pets 19 jan 2016

Donguri Yawns When Marc Pets Her 19 January 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

WN 40% Ryoko 23 June 2017 005

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

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

 

WN 40% Ryoko 16 Aug 2017 004

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

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

WN 40% Crop Ryoko 21 September 2017 042

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Momiji after she was attacked by Maple

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

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

WN 40% Ryoko Wants Escape 25 June 2017 070

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

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

WN 40% crop Ryoko 27 June 2017 052

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WN 40% Injured Aoba 28 Jun 2018 044

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

WN 20% Injured Aoba 28 Jun 2018 100

Aoba spent the day resting

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

 

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

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

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

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

crop feeding injured Aoba 29 Jun 2018 014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WN 20% Sad Donut Injured Aoba 28 Jun 2018 117

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

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

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

How To Have the Best Relationship with Animals

My experiences with horses and capybaras.

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

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

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

WN 40% cute Doughnut paw curled 09 Jul 2017 064

Donut

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choco was a very special capybara. How could Nagasaki Bio Park send him away. It speaks of immense ignorance and lack of interest in the capybaras. I and many other people are heartbroken.

WN 20% Choco and Marc 08 Nov 2016 077

Choco was an exceptional capybara. People came from all over the world to meet him.

None of the keepers know where Choco has gone which is very ominous. I fear it means he has been sent to China. Zoos in China have a dreadful reputation. I have many European and American friends who work in China and they all say that they cannot visit zoos in China because they are so depressing and the animals suffer so much. (See link below about kangaroo stoned to death by visitors at a zoo in China because the kangaroo was sleeping and they wanted her to move around to entertain them. This is absolutely barbaric behaviour.)

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

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

When thinking about what has happened to Choco it is important to remember that capybaras are very gregarious, social, herd animals and they are exceptionally sensitive emotionally. Research has shown that humans and mammals share the same neuroanatomical structures and neurochemical pathways which are important for feelings. This means that humans and mammals experience similar emotional responses to situations, both unpleasant and pleasant. Put yourself in Choco’s place and imagine just how frightened you would be.

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

Imagine how you would feel if you were put in a small, metal cage and taken in a truck to an unknown destination. Choco has never been in a vehicle before so the whole experience would be terrifying. Choco would be surrounded by strangers. There would be loud noises and strange vibrations. If he went to China the experience of flying with the concomitant pressurisation and depressurisation and the sensations of taking off and landing would be frightening beyond belief.

I am very worried about Choco.

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

Choco was such a wonderful ambassador for the Biopark. He was many people’s favourite capybara. Choco was also a very clever capybara and pioneered many new behaviours which no other capybara had ever done before. This is partly what endeared him to so many people.

People loved watching him open the gate to the capybara enclosure and go out to greet arriving visitors!

One new behaviour which Choco pioneered was to jump up into the channel which carries the hot water to the Onsen and enjoy his Onsen experience in this channel when the senior capybaras denied him access to the Onsen bath. No capybara had ever done this before. Six junior capybaras copied Choco’s behaviour and were able to enjoy the Onsen experience for the first time by going in the water channel. The visitors found this so entertaining.

 

In this video, Choco amazes the visitors by opening the entrance gate and going out to greet them.

 

When Choco was one-year-old and at the bottom of the hierarchy and not getting enough to eat he started going into the monkey house and eating the monkey’s food. Amazingly, the Capuchin monkeys accepted this. Choco was the only capybara the Capuchin monkeys allowed into their monkey house; when other capybaras tried to enter the monkey house they were chased away. Choco often slept in the monkey house out of the heat of the sun and sheltered there when the rain was heavy. Did the Capuchin monkeys consider him their pet?

 

When Choco wanted a nap and didn’t want to be intimidated or chased by senior capybaras he often sought protection by climbing onto people’s laps and going to sleep. No capybara would attack him if he was sleeping on a human’s lap. The visitors loved this. I remember one lady who refused to leave the capybara enclosure until Choco had finished his nap on her lap. Her husband looked increasingly bored and Impatient but his wife was so happy. In cold weather a soft, warm human lap was always very appealing.

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

30% Choco sleeping on Lady's lap

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

Choco often slept on our soft, purple rucksack so we called it “Choco’s bag”. It will be very sad going back to the Bio Park with Choco’s bag but no Choco to sleep on it.

WN Choco on our bag 09 December 2015 154

 

Finally Choco has a bag to call his own. It used to be our bag but he looked so comfortable sleeping on it.   I love the way Choco put his front paws around the bag to make sure nobody took it away from him.

 

Choco loved rolling in the mud. He moved in a very special way rolling right over onto his back and moving his hips from side to side as if he was trying to experience the maximum enjoyment. Watching him was quite different from watching other capybaras roll in the mud. Choco often looked as if he was a trained dancer. Whether he was standing on his hind legs begging for bamboo or rolling in the mud his movements were so special and enchanting.

Choco moves so gracefully. I’ve never seen a capybara with such graceful paw movements, or the way he moves his body. He reminds me of a Kathakali dancer (a dance form from Kerala , in India). Choco is so patient trying to get a few bamboo leaves to eat. You can see how frustrated he is getting.

 

Choco is a real character and the Biopark was very lucky to have him.

To use language the management of Nagasaki Bio Park should understand: Choco was a great asset. From a business perspective Choco was the most entertaining capybara; he provided more entertainment for visitors than the other capybaras. Visitors who witness Choco’s interesting, amusing and pioneering behaviour are more likely to tell their friends to go to the Biopark to see the capybaras.

I hope Choco was not sent away because he often stole food. The visitors found it very amusing the way Choco would get up on his hind legs and steal branches of bamboo that had been put out for visitors to buy, or knock over the bowl of swan pellets, when he was hungry. Occasionally he managed to break into the keepers’ hut where the pellets were stored although he was never able to open the pellet container. Choco often opened the enclosure gates to go out in search of grass or a raid on the bamboo store just outside the gate. All these antics endeared Choco enormously to the public.

 

In this video he is working out how to steal some bamboo. He very frequently steals bamboo. However, because he is so lovable he never gets into trouble. He is a favourite of some of the keepers. He has inherited his father, Toku’s intelligence.

 

It would be quite unacceptable if Choco was being punished for this behaviour. And also very shortsighted. Surely the entertainment of visitors should be the second highest priority for the Bio Park management after the welfare of the animals. A myopic focus on making money will never lead to a successful business.

What has poor Choco done to deserve this? Animal Welfare Science is acknowledged to be poorly understood in Japan. A Japanese keeper I know of who understands Animal Welfare says that most Japanese people do not understand animals; they think animals are cute but nothing more. This information was corroborated in an article in The Japan Times which pointed out that many zoos in Japan keep animals in very small, unsuitable enclosures. Some of these are very small zoos in city centres which have no space and where animals often become overstressed because too many people are petting them. There is even a zoo in a shopping mall with one adult lion; totally unsuitable for large carnivores, or indeed for any other wild animal.

At all the zoos I know of in Europe the keepers stay with the same species for many years and usually for their entire careers. This means they become expert not only on the species but also on the individual animals in their care. They can troubleshoot problems before they develop and limit aggression. I have one friend who was a capybara keeper for many years at an Animal Park in France. There was never any aggression among the capybaras here and they were able to introduce a female into the herd who was not related to any of the capybaras in the herd.

It seems that Choco’s problems began in January with the departure of the three capybara keepers from the previous year and the arrival of two new, inexperienced keepers. A friend of mine who visited the Bio Park in January said that the keeper she spoke to could not recognise or identify the capybaras. I was told at this time that Choco and Doughnut had been fighting and were taking it in turns to be separated from the herd. In the past it has always been Doughnut who started the aggression and Choco usually turned his back and walked away. Doughnut is a much more emotional and aggressive capybara than Choco and for capybaras there appears to be an evolutionary advantage to being aggressive. If Choco and Doughnut had not been neutered then Doughnut’s aggression might have resulted in him fathering more offspring than Choco. A friend told me at the end of February that she thought Choco had left the Biopark but when I asked a former keeper I was told that Choco was still at the Biopark and they were still taking it in turns to be separated. I now suspect that this was not accurate information. About 2 weeks ago a friend of mine posted some photos she had taken when she visited the Bio Park at the end of March. On one of the photos she posted that Choco had gone but she did not know where. This was my first confirmation of the tragic news that Choco had indeed been sent away.

The Biopark keeps changing the keepers in the capybara enclosure so the keepers never build up any experience or understanding of capybara behaviour. They do not know the relationships between the individual capybaras or the history of the herd members.

There have been a number of significant changes to the capybara enclosure over the years. All of them have impacted negatively on the capybaras. The man who designed the original capybara enclosure understood the needs of the capybaras. He created a much larger enclosure which included grazing but some years ago a few visitors complained that there were capybaras on the path leading around the Biopark, so the size of the enclosure was reduced by half and the capybaras no longer had any access to grass. Nobody who cared about animals or had an understanding of Animal Welfare would condone this. There is an alternative route that visitors could take to avoid coming in contact with capybaras without having to reduce the size of their enclosure. The change to the feeding routines in 2013 increased competition between the capybaras for food and the capybaras now often become very hungry during the day. This has led to an increase in aggression with capybaras having to be taken out of the herd after being injured and then they are never able to return to the herd but must lead an unhappy life in a small, concrete enclosure. Hunger and stress lead to aggressive behaviour.

Capybaras are very gregarious, social, herd animals and they are exceptionally sensitive emotionally. Research has shown that the limbic system, including the amygdala and the hippocampus, which is important in processing emotions, is shared between all mammals including humans and capybaras. This means that most animal species experience similar emotional responses to situations, both unpleasant and pleasant, as we humans. We share the same ancestry as all other mammals. There is evolutionary continuity among animals; all mammals share neuroanatomical structures and neurochemical pathways that are important for feelings. It is long overdue that every human should understand that animals are much more than just CUTE. We should all understand and respect animals. We are so privileged to be able to share their lives.

It is very important that the capybara keepers stay with the capybaras for many years and develop an expertise in capybara husbandry. They should understand modern Animal Welfare Science including the importance of animals being allowed to display their natural behaviours, which in the case of capybaras means they must have access to grass, which is their staple diet in the wild, whenever they want to eat. At least at the Biopark they have a huge pond. Keepers must understand that it is essential for animals to have some control over their lives and that enclosures must include “enrichment”. Enrichment ensures that animals in captivity have objects to play with or engage with so that they do not become bored and stressed.

As is the case everywhere in the world the behaviour of people is becoming worse. I see this in the capybara enclosure. On our very last day last year I saw two cases of bad behaviour to Choco. One was a young child of about 8 or 10 years old who sat on Choco and then lay on him. I explained to her father that this was not good. Choco was amazing and did not react. A little later four men tried to push Choco over. Surprisingly Choco tolerated this behaviour but some of the capybaras could have become very upset. I have seen other people deliberately try to frighten the capybaras.

Choco is a very special capybara and it is a tragedy that he is no longer at the Biopark. It is unforgivable that Nagasaki Bio Park should have sent Choco away. No honourable zoo would ever send an animal to China.

 

Bioparkに教えてください  中国に動物を送り込まないでください。 私はチョコレートと親戚について非常に心配しています。

 

中国のチョコはなくなった? 私は非常に心配です

 

日本の動物は中国には送らないでください。 中国の動物園はひどいところです。

 

訪問者はカンガルーで岩を投げます。 カンガルーを殺す。 カンガルー睡眠。 それらを楽しませてください。 訪問者はしばしば石を投げ、中国の動物園で動物を打つ。

 

中国の動物園は規制されていない

 

Please do not send Japanese animals to China.  Zoos in China are terrible. I have American and European friends who work in China. They all say Chinese zoos are terrible. Animals suffer very much.

 

A kangaroo was stoned to death in a Chinese zoo – because it was not hopping enough to amuse visitors. Visitors to zoos in China regularly abuse animals, throwing rocks at them or bludgeoning them. Zoos in China are lightly regulated and animals frequently suffer horrific abuse.

 

Have Choco and Kin gone to China?  This is keeping me awake at night.  Nasu Animal Kingdom has sent capybaras to China.  The Bipoark would not tell me where Kin went.  If they send a capybara to a zoo in Japan there is no secrecy.

 

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/animalia/wp/2018/04/20/a-kangaroo-wouldnt-hop-so-zoo-visitors-stoned-it-to-death/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.66bbb8ac9739

 

 

Life As a Neutered Male Capybara in a Herd Full of Female Capybaras 去勢された雄カピバラの生活女性のカピバラと一緒に生活する

baby Choco head resting August 2013

Photo of baby Choco and Doughnut:  Choco when he was a baby in August 2013, sleeping with his head resting on brother Doughnut. Macaroni is behind him. Macaroni’s mother was Ayu, but as Ayu did not produce any milk Macaroni, who is only 5 days younger than Choco and Doughnut, joined Momiji who nursed him. Capybaras practice Alloparenting so it was quite natural for Momiji to accept Macaroni. ベビーチョコ。ブラザードーナツ。マカロニ – 母あゆ。あゆはミルクを産生しませんでした。カピバラはAlloparentingを行います。もみじはマカロニを受け入れました。

In the wild male capybaras would leave the herd when they become sub adults, between one and two years of age. They are too closely related to the females in the herd to be able to mate with them. These young males would usually join another herd as subordinate males, hoping to become the dominant male one day.

 

As subordinate males they play a very useful role on the outskirts of the herd keeping a vigilant eye out for danger. Subordinate males give more warning calls than other capybaras in the herd. They also collectively secure more matings than the dominant male, although the dominant male mates more often than each subordinate male. As female capybaras are only receptive for the last eight hours of estrus, the dominant male may well be the father of most of the offspring in the herd as he can guard the female in estrus for this short period and chase away subordinate males who wish to mate at this time. Dominant males will sometimes interrupt a mating which is taking place between a subordinate male and a female.

 

Female capybaras seem to prefer to mate with the dominant male and if a subordinate male tries to mate with them, or is mating with them, they sometimes vocalise loudly to attract the attention of the dominant male, in effect asking him to come over and break up her liaison with the subordinate male…..And then mate with her.

Choco sleeping front of food stall waiting.jpg

Choco resting チョコ

Sometimes the young males leaving the herd will form their own herds. If they fail to join a herd or establish a new herd, the outlook for a solitary capybara in the wild is often bleak. They may easily succumb to attacks by predators. There is safety in numbers as the more capybaras there are being vigilant in the herd, the more likely it is that a predator will be noticed by at least one of the members of the herd of capybaras who will give a warning call.

 

Capybaras in captivity live a very different life. At Nagasaki Bio Park, in Kyushu, Japan, Choco and Doughnut, Momiji’s sons who were born in 2013, were neutered at age 6 months so that they could remain in the herd. If they had not been neutered Choco and Doughnut would have had to be removed from the herd and as there are too many male capybaras in Japan their future would not have been very happy. They would either have had to spend their lives alone in a separate small enclosure, probably with a concrete floor, and with at best a tiny pond. Very likely they might only have had a small plastic tub barely large enough for them to sit in, which is quite unacceptable for these very active and graceful, semi-aquatic animals. Or they might have been sold to China, whose zoos have a dreadful reputation.

 

What I find very interesting is the way that the senior capybaras in the female hierarchy react to these neutered male capybaras as they grow older. They don’t like them! At first I thought this was because, as neutered males, they smelt different and wrong. But then I realised that instinctively the senior capybaras knew that these males should have left the herd.

WN 40% cute Doughnut paw curled 09 Jul 2017 064

Donut with his paw cutely curled. ドーナツかわいいカールした足

This was why Hinase frequently chased Choco and Doughnut. Even wise and peaceful Donguri didn’t want them in her Onsen, although she never chased them. She just gave them a very powerful look and raised her nose to indicate her dominance and her wish that they would move away, which Choco and Doughnut completely understood. Even their own mother, Momiji, is often aggressive towards them. Capybaras are very sensitive emotionally and Choco and Doughnut could sense the mood of these senior capybaras, and whether, at any given time, they were likely to encounter aggression. Choco and Doughnut would then give these females a wide berth, thus avoiding any direct aggression.

 

Choco, possibly the cleverest capybara I have ever met, came up with a very clever strategy to gain acceptance by the female capybaras. Either that or he was a little confused about his sexual identity. He joined the female capybaras every time they went to visit Toku the male. Toku leads a life of endless frustration in a separate enclosure separated, by a metal fence, from the females who long to be with him. (In 2016 the only female capybara who was allowed in to mate with him was Zabon, and she was only allowed in for 30 minutes on the first occasion and 20 minutes on the second occasion. Toku and Zabon’s frustration at being separated so quickly was palpable and very upsetting to watch.)

 

Choco acted just like the females when the herd went to visit Toku and Toku was never aggressive towards him though he seemed very curious about Choco’s presence, no doubt sensing that Choco was not female! Choco often went right up to the gate of Toku’s enclosure along with the most senior females and Toku often spent a long time sniffing him which was quite amusing to watch, especially the expression on Choco’s face! There was just one occasion when I saw Toku react aggressively to Choco. On this occasion Choco visited Toku without the other females and Toku got very upset by Choco’s presence and became quite aggressive.

Crop 40% Choco Yawn 07 September 2017 015

Choco yawning     チョコ 欠伸

Choco’s demeanour, perhaps his fearlessness, and his general behaviour gained him greater acceptance by the female capybaras than Doughnut, his brother. Doughnut is a much more emotional and openly sensitive capybara then brother Choco, and much more hardwired to be aggressive. He is always alert to the danger posed by Hinase. Whenever she looks likely to come anywhere near him Doughnut will get up and move away. Choco, ever fearless, by contrast, only moves when Hinase begins to run towards him with that mischievous gleam in her eye and her ears pricked. Capybaras don’t often prick up their ears, but it is quite a characteristic pose for Hinase. She does this frequently and looks very cute and it is usually a sign that she is either planning to chase someone, or she has noticed some food and is amazed that other more junior capybaras think they are entitled to it!

 

When Choco does run away from Hinase, he usually outruns her and stops at the earliest opportunity. He then moves back to where he was, quite fearlessly, and Hinase rarely chases him again.

 

When Doughnut visits Toku, Toku gets very upset and aggressive, as does Doughnut.

WN 40% Choco and Maple Mating 08 Jul 2017 067

Choco mating with Maple  チョコそしてメイプルメイト

One of the advantages of being a neutered male and being allowed to remain in the herd with the females is that you may have the opportunity to mate if one of the females will let you. Choco and Doughnut frequently mate with Maple but she is the only fairly senior capybara who is interested in mating. Choco and Doughnut both also sometimes mate with Butter, one of Maple’s three-year-old daughters, but never with Butter’s sister, Cookie. Hinase and Momiji are not at all happy about Choco and Doughnut mating with any of the females and sometimes they will swim over to break up the liaison.

 

One of my very favourite capybaras at Nagasaki Bio Park was Syu, whose mother Aki (Donguri’s sister) tragically died five days after giving birth to him and his sister Autumn. Syu was exceptionally affectionate and when I petted him he would put his face up to mine and gently rubbed his morillo affectionately across my lips.

Syu the Most Affectionate Capybara in The World カピバラは私にキスをしました。シュー世界で最も愛情カピバラ:

Syu was also a neutered male and for the first year he and Donguri were very friendly. The second year the keeper, Shoko Ono, who took great interest in observing the capybaras and knew everything about their lives and relationships, told me that Donguri and Syu no longer seemed to be friends. I now realise this was simply because as a male capybara Donguri knew Syu should have left the herd by now. At the time it surprised me that Donguri, being such a wise and compassionate leader and capybara, would cease to be friends with a sweet capybara like Syu. Especially as she always liked the male capybaras and was the favourite of all the males.

 

The relationship that neutered male capybaras have with the senior female capybaras in their herd is complex and not entirely satisfactory. However, if they can remain in the herd by being neutered that is easily the best life for them.

Animal Manifesto: Animals are Real Not Cute 動物のマニフェスト.動物は本物ですかわいらしくない

I am coming to the conclusion that the market for “cute” animal photos and videos is detrimental to Animal Welfare. In some countries it encourages people to buy wild animals as pets when in fact these wild animals are totally unsuited to become pets and usually suffer. It also results in an increasing number of zoos, often very small and cramped, which house cute animals in prisonlike conditions. These animals suffer greatly in small, unsuitable enclosures, often with concrete floors and in the case of capybaras, who are semi aquatic, their water source is a small plastic tub often barely larger than the capybara himself. We humans cause so much suffering to the animals we call “cute”. Capybaras, and all other species, are so VERY MUCH MORE than cute.

 

WN 40% Kin Hides 03 July 2017 010

Kin was always frightened and spent much of the day hiding behind this wooden board in her small wooden hut. The sound of the visitors approaching was amplified by the wooden floorboards, wooden walls around which the sound reverberated, and broken concrete over which the visitors walked. Every time a child screamed she cowered in fear. At the opposite end of her enclosure was a tunnel and visitors made strange loud noises to hear the echo which frightened her even more. Her enclosure was small, the floor was entirely concrete and very uneven making it difficult for her to lie down. The people she was most frightened of were the keepers

 

In my videos and explanations I try to show the capybaras’, who I know so well, natural behaviour which is so much more interesting than cute photos of baby capybaras. Anyone who truly loves and cares about animals will want to know them at a much deeper level than merely “cute”. Older animals are invariably more interesting. As the capybaras grow older they develop their own individual personalities and character.

In an increasingly stressful world I understand the role that animals play in creating a refuge. Cute animals represent a world that is warm and welcoming, an escape from the frustrations and evils that too often represent the world of man. I see an analogy between pinup girls and cute animal photos. Neither do justice to the living beings the photos represent. Photos of cute animals represent a two-dimensional image, and in the case of animals, the animals suffer since their needs are too often overlooked in man’s selfish pursuit of cuteness, entertainment and a refuge at the expense of these animals.

The video below is Ran who was living in Kin’s horrible enclosure when I first visited in 2012. He died prematurely at a very young age almost certainly caused by stress. You can see how frightened he was all the time in this video. The fear in his eyes is palpable

 

Much of the blame for this growing danger to Animals’ Welfare lies in the way animals are increasingly being promoted as cute by YouTube and the world’s media. YouTube promotes videos of wild animals being kept as pets but a life as a pet is usually completely unsuitable for a wild animal.

 

WN 40% crop Frightened Kin 25 June 2017 049

If you look at her eyes you can see how frightened she is. It is very stressful for any animal to live in a constant state of fear

 

In many countries particularly in Asia, including Japan, the media portrays wild animals as being cute and cuddly with the result that most people in these countries do not understand animals but simply view them as cute, as though they were animated cuddly toys. In Japan, to satisfy this market for cute animals, there are an enormous number of zoos which occupy very little space, sometimes even in shopping malls, where cute animals like capybaras, even lions in one case, are displayed in small, prisonlike enclosures totally unsuited to their needs. Capybaras are semiaquatic but many of these capybaras have only a small plastic tub into which they can barely squeeze. Some of the capybaras I have seen in videos look deformed.

 

WN 40% Sumire Momiji Ryoko visit kin pond side 23 June 2017 024

Several times every day her friends in the herd swam to the far side of the pond and climbed the rocky hill and sat beside the boundary fence to be as close to Kin as they could possibly get. In this photo from left are Sumire, Momiji and Ryoko

 

One friend who visited a small zoo in Osaka said the animals seemed very stressed and exhausted by all the petting and attention they received.

WN 40% Kin only we petted leash 29 June 2017 099

Marc and I were the only people who petted Kin. She was the sweetest most responsive capybara and it broke my heart the way the keepers completely ignored her. When I fed her by hand she was so gentle

 

It is vitally important that wild animals in captivity are able to display their natural behaviours. In the case of capybaras this means having a reasonably large enclosure with access to grazing and a good sized body of water. For more on this please look at my blog:

https://capybaraworld.wordpress.com/2017/08/27/capybara-enclosure-design-capybara-management-and-the-welfare-of-capybaras-in-zoos-and-captive-environments/

In some states in America it is relatively easy to keep a wild animal as a pet. Some of the people who keep wild animals as pets do so to increase their own status, find fame or to make money. In the case of capybaras people see videos of these exceptionally affectionate and gregarious animals being kept as pets and think “I want one” without having any understanding of the needs of these complex, highly emotional and intelligent animals. It seems many of these people can’t even afford the often expensive vet bills charged by the exotic animal vets who are the only vets with the knowledge to treat a sick or injured capybara.

Levels of the stress hormone cortisol are much higher in some wild animal species kept as pets and bonded with humans than in these species when they are bonded with other members of their own species. I suspect the same is true with capybaras. I certainly know of one capybara whose life is very stressful because he is bonded with humans.

It is very stressful for a capybara to be bonded with a human. Very few humans can spend all day at home so when the human who the capybara has bonded with leaves the home the capybara becomes exceptionally anxious and unhappy. Capybaras are herd animals and if a member of the herd disappears he/she will almost certainly never return having been killed by a predator. Capybaras are exceptionally sensitive emotionally as they need to be in order to assess the mood of other capybaras in their herd and avoid conflict. This sensitivity results in pet capybaras becoming stressed as they do not understand much of the behaviour of the humans they live with.

WN 40% crop kin escapes looks sadly at her old home 09 Jul 2017 003

One day Kin managed to escape. She made her way to the entrance gate to her old enclosure where she had lived happily with all the other capybaras and looked in so longingly with this very sad expression on her face. Kin had lived with the herd until the day her sister, Gin, attacked her so badly that she had to be taken out of the herd to recover.

 

Baby animals are very cute and none more so than baby capybaras. However, as they grow older and stronger it is common for them to challenge the humans they live with. In the wild capybaras negotiate hierarchy by aggression and intimidation. When capybaras are bonded with humans they view the humans as their herd and turn this natural aggression in pursuit of hierarchy on the human. The pet capybara wants to be number one in the herd hierarchy replacing the human.

 

Many capybaras kept as pets are unhappy and this unhappiness can lead to aggression against the humans who control their lives. Not many people can deal in a positive and successful way with an aggressive capybara. An adult capybara weighs about 50 kg and has exceptionally sharp teeth. Most humans are no match for an unhappy capybara who vents his unhappiness by becoming aggressive. Capybaras can move extraordinarily quickly and can be very unpredictable. One minute they are resting, the next minute they have whipped round and attacked you.

 

I came across a website by accident which advertised capybaras for sale. These were capybaras who had outgrown their “baby” cuteness. They varied in age from about nine months to 3 years. The way in which they were described by the people selling them was heartbreaking. One seller described his capybara as “Sold as is with defects. Cannot be handled” as if he was selling a used car. Another seller described the capybara he was selling as “Suitable for display” as though this sensitive, living being was an inanimate object with no feelings or needs. I was in tears thinking about the unhappy lives humans had created for these loving animals. And I was appalled at the lack of compassion, concern or morality of the people selling these unwanted capybaras.

WN 40% Sumere visits kin 23 June 2017 012

Sumire regularly escaped from the capybara enclosure and went to visit Kin. They called to each other and climbed on their hind legs trying to get closer to each other. Kin’s mother is Sumire’s grandmother.

 

Many zoos throughout the world keep animals in small, often concrete floored enclosures which are completely unsuited to the needs of these living beings who have feelings and needs and whose lives are important to them. Some zoos split up family groups or introduce unrelated animals into a group of a highly social species like elephants resulting in death and extreme depression. This was the case with Denver zoo and its elephants. Every animal is an individual often with very similar emotions to humans. In the case of mammals we share a common ancestry and very similar brain structures and neurochemicals. There is a growing body of research showing how rats feel compassion, will help another rat who is too weak to access food by dragging food over to him/her and will give up a treat in order to avert the suffering of another rat.

 

Hinase, Leader of the Herd at Nagasaki Bio Park 長崎バイオテクノロジーパークの群れのリーダー、ひなた

Following Donguri’s death Hinase became number one in the Bio Park herd. A capybara doesn’t become number one without being intelligent and clever.

I thought Hinase would be my least favourite capybara after Donguri’s death as she was the only capybara ever to test Donguri. This happened on two occasions and as Donguri did not like aggression and also probably knew that she was now weaker than Hinase due to her age, Donguri accepted Hinase’s behaviour without retaliating.

WN 40% Hinase intense look 26 August 2017 038

On one occasion Donguri was sitting in a wooden tub under the Onsen shower when Hinase jumped in beside her. There was not much room and Donguri was visibly upset. I went towards the two capybaras to encourage Hinase to leave. As soon as Hinase saw me coming she jumped out. I find her behaviour very interesting as it shows how intelligent capybaras are. If any other visitor had approached her Hinase would not have jumped out. However Hinase understood exactly what I was doing. She knew Donguri was not happy about her presence in the tub and she knew I was Donguri’s friend and patron. Hinase understood that I was coming on behalf of Donguri to get her to leave the tub.

What puzzles me is why she and the other capybaras at Nagasaki Bio Park never challenge, bite or attack humans. Hinase is much more powerful than me and with those sharp teeth she is much better armed. If she had chosen to challenge me she would have won easily.

 

Now that Donguri is no longer with us I have come to know the other capybaras in the herd at a very deep level. Hinase in particular has captured my interest. She always has an interesting but slightly lost and confused look in her eyes. She is the leader of the herd but she is not in control of her life; humans control her life and not for the better. Of all the capybaras in the herd she is the one who seems least happy about the presence of humans. Capybara eyes are very expressive and they have a very similar structure to human eyes so it is often possible to read a capybara’s mood by looking at the expression in their eyes.

WN 40% cute Hinase sleeping 22 June 2017 039

As a two-year-old Hinase was exceptionally friendly and would often sit on visitors’ laps, especially in winter when laps were warmer and softer than the cold concrete or damp earth.  However, like most of the older capybaras, Hinase has grown tired of the behaviour of too many of the visitors, who tease and taunt the capybaras by waving bamboo in front of them and then pulling it away just as they are about to take a bite. When the capybaras are sleeping some visitors poke their morillos or flick their ears seeming to enjoy watching the morillos wrinkle or the ears wiggle and doing this over and over again. I want to say to them “how would you like it if somebody did that to you when you were trying to sleep?”.

Over the past few years I would occasionally pet Hinase using the leash which she absolutely adored. Although she was not my favourite capybara, her response was so overwhelming and rewarding that I did pet her, especially as other visitors to the Bio Park were spellbound at her response to being petted with a leash or by using my foot with a special technique which I developed and which the capybaras love. She would roll over in absolute ecstasy her hair rising with pleasure. Nobody else ever pets capybaras using a leash or with their foot so it was a novel experience for the visitors to the Bio Park capybara enclosure. (When I use my foot I am extremely gentle and just ruffle the hair on a capybara’s body in the areas which I know gives them the most pleasure.)

WN 40% Hinase pond 25 September 2017 013

This year she started coming to me when she wanted to be petted. I felt honoured. Since I had not spent much time with her I was intrigued by this. I think it shows how clever and intelligent she is as it is not that common for capybaras to specifically choose the person they want to be petted by. I discovered she loved me rubbing her morillo when she was in the mood. Most capybaras do not particularly like having their morillos rubbed. Hinase more than any other female capybara I have known loves to rub her morillo and does so very frequently. The most senior capybara in a hierarchy normally rubs their morillo more often than more junior capybaras.

WN crop Hinase rubbing morillo pond 03 July 2017 008

Unlike Donguri she does not show a great interest in what is going on in the capybara enclosure. She does not have Donguri’s compassionate nature and most of her behaviour is directed towards satisfying her desires.

She seems to want the capybaras to acknowledge her leadership. Most of the capybaras become alert as she approaches ready to jump up and move away if they sense that she might be aggressive towards them. This usually ensures that she is not aggressive towards them. However Butter doesn’t seem to understand this. Butter is near the bottom of the hierarchy and much, much smaller than Hinase. Despite this occasionally and amazingly I have seen Butter approach Hinase when Hinase is eating and look as if she is going to challenge Hinase for some food. The look on Hinase’s face as Butter approaches is priceless, one of absolute disbelief! Hinase frequently chases Butter and the look in her eyes when she is in the mood to chase Butter is one of excitement. Hinase’s eyes protrude slightly more than most capybara eyes and I have to admit I love the sparkle in them when she is in the mood to chase. It’s almost as if she is doing it for fun.

Sometimes she is acting out of frustration when she chases Butter. She desperately wants to be with Toku, the breeding male, and mate with him. As leader of the herd that is her right. She spends many hours rubbing her nose rapidly up and down on the gate to Toku’s enclosure. This behaviour is called Stereotypies, or Abnormal Repetitive Behaviour (ARB) and is a sign of stress. On one occasion as Hinase walked through the petting area, where the capybaras were resting, on her way to visit Toku (she can only rub noses with him through the fence of his enclosure unfortunately) she took out her frustration on every capybara she passed pushing her nose into their bottoms and nipping them!

WN 40% crop Hinase relaxing 19 September 2017 015

As she got older Milk, one of Maple’s five pups and just over 16 months old, was becoming more aggressive. One day I noticed Hinase chasing her and decided that Hinase understood that part of her role as leader was to keep the rest of the herd under control. She doesn’t like it when one of the neutered males, Choco or Doughnut, mate with Maple or Butter. Maple and Butter are the only capybaras in the herd who mate with Choco and Doughnut, which in itself is interesting. Hinase seems to accept Choco more than she does Doughnut. Choco is very relaxed and fearless whereas brother Doughnut is more aggressive but very sensitive, restless and perhaps the most nervous capybara in the herd. Doughnut seems most in touch with his wild side and is quick to move away whenever Hinase approaches. In many ways his personality resembles his mother, Momiji.

One day Hinase was challenged by Maple over food. It is very unusual for any capybara to challenge Hinase. Both capybaras sustained some nasty wounds. Hinase had a very painful bite on her mouth which took five days to heal during which time she was obviously suffering. On the third day she came to me at least ten times towards the end of the day asking me to rub her morillo. Rubbing her morillo seemed to provide her with some relief from the pain and discomfort of the wound.

Then I noticed some very interesting behaviour. As the herd were walking back from visiting Toku Aoba went over to Hinase and nuzzled her morillo for some time which Hinase seemed to really appreciate. Aoba was the only capybara in the herd who responded compassionately to Hinase’s suffering. Hinase and Aoba are not particular friends. Aoba is one of the most intelligent and perhaps the most sensitive capybaras in the herd. In the first two years of her life she often tried to enhance her position in the herd by nuzzling the senior capybaras and trying to befriend them. She is the only capybara I have seen use this strategy to improve her position in the hierarchy. She was very successful with Donguri and occasionally Maple would let her share her food trough but she had no success whatsoever with Hinase at that time.

WN 40% beautiful Hinase sleeping 22 June 2017 040

After this I noticed Aoba trying to share Hinase’s food trough with brief periods of success. I also noticed Hinase intimidate Maple on several occasions following their fight to emphasise to Maple that she, Hinase, was “the boss”.

The relationship between Hinase and Momiji, who is second in the hierarchy, is very interesting. You might think they would be competing with each other but in fact they appear to be the best of friends. They play together in the pond, although from time to time Hinase appears to act very aggressively and Momiji swims away rapidly. However Momiji returns almost immediately as if the aggression was very momentary and she knew she had nothing to fear. They ride on each other’s backs in the pond and nuzzle each other playfully. From time to time Hinase will give her extraordinary gruff call, her whole body heaving with the effort. This appears to be a summons to Momiji who dutifully comes swimming over. On other occasions Momiji gives this notable gruff call.

They often sleep together. Only where food is involved does Hinase always win, sometimes being unnecessarily brutal in pushing Momiji away. Momiji never challenges her, wise capybara that she is. A former chief capybara keeper described Momiji as very intelligent. For much of her life she has been number two and she seems quite comfortable in that role. She benefited during Donguri’s four years as leader of the herd, Donguri being Momiji’s mother and with whom she had a very close relationship. Very often Momiji will initiate an activity and Hinase will follow. Hinase is not as active in the pond or on land as Momiji. No other capybaras in the herd spend as much time together as Hinase and Momiji do.

I don’t think Hinase has a high opinion of humans. She seems wary of them and unaware that she is much more powerful physically and could do them a nasty injury if she attacked them. She probably senses that in a world dominated by humans she could never come out on top. She often looks mystified by human behaviour. Like the other capybaras she hates having to beg for food, especially as she is number one in the hierarchy and should be answerable to no one.

WN 40% Hinase 01 October 2017 099

When she was just two years old I watched her performing for a crowd of people who wanted to photograph her. She was fantastic. Posing for about 10 minutes like a top model, tilting her head from side to side, then turning to different positions for the cameras. Finally she opened and closed her mouth a few times to hint that she might like a reward. Everyone else ignored her, but I went off and found a few bits of watermelon for her. In her youth she was a very friendly capybara but like many of the capybaras she got tired of being teased and taunted by thoughtless, ignorant humans.

Hinase was born on 28 April, 2010. Her mother was Fujiko and her father was Takeshi. Her grandmother was the great Donguri.