Where Can I Pet a Capybara in America? Why Being with Capybaras Is The Best Experience in the World

If you want to spend time with a capybara, and many other exotic species, the best place I know of is Workhorse Farm in Denton, Maryland. You might even be lucky and meet some baby capybaras.

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There are about 30 other species of exotic, rare and domesticated animals on this 40 acre farm including, (as well as Capybaras) camels, zebras, llamas, Asian water buffalo, kangaroos, wallabies, emus, tortoises and draft horses. You may also encounter some baby animals.

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You can also tour the farm in a wagon drawn by draft horses.

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Many of these animals have been rescued and are looked after by owner Nick Mielke, his family and volunteers.

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These are comments made by recent visitors to Workhorse Farm:

“Amazing experience.  My boys loved it”

“We had the best time today.  Highly recommended for adults and kids.”

“Awesome place with incredible animals. a great experience for animal lovers! the owners are super friendly and make you feel right at home!”

 

Spending time with a capybara is the best experience I know of; in case you didn’t already realise! Capybaras are considered one of the most gregarious species by ethologists (scientists who study animal behaviour). Capybaras who are habituated to people can be exceptionally affectionate. They love to be petted and their reaction (rolling over, looking absolutely blissful and ecstatic, with their hair rising – pilo-erection) is greater than any other animal species I know of.

I have spent at least 6 months of every year for the past 7 years in the company of capybaras: mostly the herd at Nagasaki Bio Park and with my friends’ 2 pet capybaras, Romeo and Tuff’n. I spend all day every day, studying their behaviour and learning how they go about their lives and relationships with other capybaras and humans. I never get bored in the company of capybaras!

Capybaras are very sensitive emotionally, more so than most humans. This may be, in part, because of their high olfactory intelligence (sensitivity to smell). When we are stressed or unhappy our bodies produce hormones, like the stress hormone cortisol, and capybaras can smell this. If I am upset, a capybara will sense this, whereas most humans will not, and will be extra affectionate. If my friends are sick Romeo and Tuff’n will spend all day on the bed with them. If my friends suffer an injury the capybaras seem to know which part of the body is injured and will nuzzle it. When my friends’ nephews come to spend the night Romeo will stay beside them guarding them, as if he knew children need extra protection; normally Romeo would sleep on the bed with my friends.

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New born baby Porcupine

Visits are by appointment only. The farm is located 3 miles from Denton, Maryland.

You can contact Nick Mielke, owner of Workhouse Farm, Rescue and Exotics, at this Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/workhorse.farm

Phone: +1 410-479-9750

Address: 25883 Garey Road, Denton, Maryland 21629

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Why Aoba Should Be the Next Female Capybara to Breed at Nagasaki Bio Park青葉が長崎バイオパークで交尾する次の女性カピバラにならなければならない理由. 青葉は赤ちゃんが必要です

In choosing which female capybara should breed it is important to understand the long-term consequences of this decision. The future cohesion of the herd will depend on this decision which is why it is important to choose a capybara who exhibits submissive behaviour as submissive behaviour is essential for the unity of the herd.

Aoba understands the importance of submissive behaviour. This is why Hinase has accepted Aoba. Maple’s female offspring, Milk, Cream and Butter, do not exhibit the submissive behaviour needed to ensure the unity of the herd, which is why Hinase does not accept them and is aggressive towards them.

If the future of the Bio Park herd descends only from Zabon and Maple’s offspring there will be more aggression and less cohesion. It would be a mistake to choose a female capybara to mate on the basis of her malleability, including the ability of the chief capybara keeper to interfere in the bonding process. It is important to understand that the relationship between the capybaras in the herd is the most important herd dynamic to be considered when choosing a female to breed.

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At every zoo in Europe Aoba would be the obvious choice to breed. She is a large, very healthy capybara in her prime. She is sweet natured and intelligent. Her mother, Momiji, has invested a great deal in Aoba and the future of her bloodline. Momiji was an outstanding mother.

Momiji was a much better mother than Maple and Zabon. Momiji always gave Aoba milk whenever she demanded and allowed her to suckle for twice the usual length of time; Aoba suckled for 8 months rather than the usual 4 months. Momiji would be an outstanding grandmother and it would be a tragedy for her as well as for Aoba and the Bio Park if Aoba was not allowed to breed.

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Aoba and Zabon’s babies enjoy being together. Zabon was very thin and weak, and she had not bonded properly with her pups, so her babies went looking for other “mothers”. Alloparenting is a natural capybara behaviour and they loved Aoba.  She would be a wonderful mother

The decision to mate Zabon for a second year in 2019 was very strange, some might even say cruel, given the suffering Zabon had experienced in 2018 after she gave birth. When Zabon gave birth in 2018 she lost a tremendous amount of weight and was literally skin and bones, she also lost a lot of hair and it seemed touch and go whether she would survive. Zabon also has a chronic foot problem which requires antibiotics to treat, but because she was pregnant she could not be given antibiotics and her foot became extremely swollen and painful. It was so painful that often she was having to hop on three legs. During the later stages of her pregnancy she had great difficulty jumping in and out of the pond when she needed to thermoregulate in the heat of August.

Zabon again became extremely thin after giving birth in 2019. She was often more interested in eating or sleeping than looking after her babies.

 

In the photos above, you can see how extremely thin Zabon became after giving birth in 2018. She suffered so much and became very weak; too weak to look after her babies.

I have just heard that Zabon died about two months after giving birth. This tragically proves my point that no keeper with an understanding of Capybara Behaviour and Animal Welfare would have chosen to breed Zabon for a second year.

In addition, although Zabon is a very gentle capybara she comes from a very aggressive family. Zabon’s mother, Aki, was so aggressive that she became herd leader at the young age of 3. Her siblings Goemon and Yuzu were also very aggressive.

Unfortunately, Zabon’s babies seen to have inherited the family’s aggressive nature. Ko and Madoka are extremely aggressive, Ko is the most aggressive yearling capybara I have ever encountered. Sasuke and Kikyo also seem very aggressive. The last thing the Biopark needs is more aggressive capybaras.

So choosing to mate Zabon for a second year in 2019, made absolutely no sense.

Maple and her female offspring are not popular with other herd members. Butter is a bit strange, which is probably why Hinase dislikes her, therefore Butter obviously should not breed.

This is some of the submissive behaviour which Aoba exhibits: Aoba nibbles Hinase’s ear and nuzzles her under the chin, both behaviours which Hinase finds very pleasurable. On one occasion Hinase had a very painful mouth wound after Maple bit her. Hinase found some relief in rubbing her morillo which she did many more times than usual each day until the wound healed. Aoba sensed this and went over to Hinase and rubbed Hinase’s morillo using her chin. Aoba is also very sensitive to Hinase’s moods and avoids upsetting her. As a result Hinase has accepted Aoba. I have these behaviours recorded on video (see above and below).

Butter seems oblivious to Hinase’s moods and often behaves in a slightly strange way. Butter can be very aggressive and is not popular with the herd which is why she has gravitated towards humans but this does not make her a good choice for breeding.

If any of Maple’s female offspring were to be mated and become pregnant this would anger Hinase. A heavily pregnant female who is chased by Hinase runs the danger of suffering a miscarriage. ( I believe Ryoko suffered a partial miscarriage when she was frightened by one of the keepers and ran flat out to the edge of the pond. Capybaras seek refuge from danger in water. After a minute or so Ryoko lay down and then experienced three violent spasms. I said to Marc that I thought Ryoko had suffered a miscarriage; she was within three weeks of giving birth at the time of this tragedy. Her pups had to be delivered by C-section. Ryoko became so weak following this procedure that she was attacked by other herd members and she has had to be permanently separated from the herd which is tragic.)

Milk is a much more aggressive capybara than Aoba. It is only her relatively junior place in the hierarchy which keeps her aggression in check.

 

Hinase particularly hates Butter and frequently chases her. I can understand Hinase’s behaviour as Butter may be slightly mad. Like horses who are not popular with their herd members, Butter and indeed Maple’s other female offspring, seek out human company. This may make them popular with some people but for the future good of the herd, and the dynamic of the herd, these are not the capybaras an informed zoo keeper would choose to breed to.

Aoba comes from the best bloodline at Nagasaki Bio Park. Her grandmother was Donguri, a natural leader who avoided aggression. Donguri was also very compassionate, visiting and giving support to any capybara who had been separated from the herd and was therefore very stressed. Her offspring, Yasuo and Yasuha, and Yamato, and her grandson Choco, inherited this wise, intelligent, compassionate and non-aggressive nature.

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Zabon’s baby, Kikyo, loved resting on Aoba

This bloodline: Donguri, her daughter Momiji and Momiji’s daughter Aoba are likely to provide the most desirable capybaras for the future of the herd. This bloodline also includes Choco, one of the most popular capybaras at the Bio Park who pioneered several new behaviours which captivated the visitors who came to see the capybaras, many of whom came specially to meet Choco. Momiji was a fantastic mother and daughter.

Fantastic Mother Momiji Aoba

Aoba sleeping on fantastic mother Momiji

Momiji was a much better mother than Maple or Zabon. She was always watchful of her young pups and when Choco, Donut and Macaroni joined the main herd at six weeks of age, Momiji took them on a grand tour of the enclosure and the pond showing them the best places to jump out of the pond and to escape the visitors. Momiji always gave her pups milk when they demanded, no matter how greedy and demanding they were. Maple, by contrast, frequently sat on a bench high above her pups, to prevent them from being able to suckle, consequently Cookie and Butter were much smaller than Aoba even though they were a little older.

 

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To repeat: It Would Be Very Misguided, and a tragedy for Nagasaki Bio Park, Aoba and Momiji If Aoba Was Not Allowed to Mate.

 

Where Can I Pet A Capybara in England?

These are some Wildlife Parks and Zoos where you can feed and sometimes pet capybaras.

Most zoos in Britain do not allow visitors to enter the capybara enclosure.

A very few zoos offer “animal encounters” where you can feed or pet the capybaras. Although some of these zoos only say that you can feed the capybaras, some people have been able to pet the capybaras as well.

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Jinx at Shepreth Wildlife Park

Having spent the past nine years studying and observing capybaras and their behaviour I have come to some conclusions: firstly, capybaras bonded with humans seem to suffer so I believe it is very important for every capybara to be bonded with other members of their species, or with other animals of a suitable species. Capybaras are an exceptionally social and gregarious species and should not be kept alone in a separate enclosure away from other capybaras.

I see no justification for a policy which prevents keepers from petting/touching the capybaras in their care. Quite the opposite. It is very important that animals/capybaras trust their keepers. One way of building up trust is for the keeper to have positive interactions with the animals/capybaras in their care. Capybaras love to be petted If they have been socialised to humans early in their life. This socialisation should take place during what is called the “critical period” which in most species occurs at about 4 to 6 weeks of age.

Building up trust and having direct contact with the capybaras allows keepers to perform healthcare procedures, and other actions, much more easily and reduces the amount of stress animals experience in these situations.

I suspect one of the reasons zoos restrict access to the capybaras, and prefer visitors to feed rather than pet the capybaras, is a fear of litigation if the capybara accidentally bites the human.

 

Shepreth Wildlife Park, near Cambridge.

Shepreth Wildlife Park may offer one of the best experience for interacting with capybaras.

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Jinx at Shepreth Wildlife Park

They have four capybaras: Jinx, Daze, Hex and Hoodoo.

In the words of their capybara keeper: “Hex and Hoodoo are sisters, aged 2. They are new to the park, fairly shy, and choose not to be involved in the public encounters, but watch from a distance. Daze is a male, aged 5. He is also relatively new, and initially also watched encounters from a distance, but recently has come closer, and is now able to be fed from a bowl held by visitors, but we do not touch him yet.

Jinx is the star! She is 5 years old, and is very friendly. She certainly seems to enjoy being scratched around the ears, chest and jawline, and will position herself to get the scratches right where she wants them.

Shepreth Wildlife Park offers encounters with several of our species. We believe that having the chance to experience wild animals close up allows visitors to build empathy with individual characters, which then translates to a appreciation for the species as a whole. It also allows us to fundraise for essential conservation work at home and abroad.

We offer encounters only with species that are suited to the experience, and always with ethics committee approval. The capybaras have proven an ideal species for this and the experience has proved popular with visitors. ”

The charge is £50, which as mentioned above allows the park to fundraise for essential conservation work.

For more information:  https://sheprethwildlifepark.co.uk/

 

Chessington Zoo which is part of Chessington World of Adventure in Surrey, England.

Another “animal encounter experience” with capybaras is at Chessington Zoo which is part of Chessington World of Adventure in Surrey, England.

Described as: “Hands on Feeding Experience and Learn about the World’s Largest Rodent”

For £30 you can spend 20 – 30 minutes with their capybaras, feeding them. Maximum group size is 4 people. (Long trousers and closed toe shoes must be worn.) Theme Park and Zoo entry are not included in the price.

For more information: https://www.chessington.com/tickets-passes/vip-experiences/

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Tommy Lawn petting British Capybaras at a wildlife park that says they don’t do animal encounters!

Beale Park, north-west of Reading, Berkshire.

Beale Park offers an attractively priced sponsorship scheme which includes the opportunity to meet the capybara keeper by prior arrangement; they are considering including animal encounters in the future. Beale Park has two capybaras, Sharon and Gary, who were born in 2016 and are brother and sister;  like many male capybaras, Gary has been neutered.  The sponsorship scheme costs £35, lasts for 12 months and includes one free entry to the wildlife park.

For more information:  https://www.bealepark.org.uk/support-us/animal-adoptions/

Cotswold Wildlife Park, at Burford, Oxfordshire

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Capybaras at Cotswold Wildlife Park

Cotswold Wildlife Park has 4 capybaras, two five-year-old adults, Bell and Olly, born 14 January 2014 and 18 December 2014 respectively. The two pups, Apple and Kiwi were born on 5 August 2018.

Cotswold wildlife Park offers a 30 minute animal encounter where you can feed both the capybaras and tapirs together. I was told this is a strictly non-touching experience! Even the keepers do not touch the capybaras.  However one person I know was able to pet the capybaras here!

The encounter lasts 30 minutes and cost £50 per person.  https://www.cotswoldwildlifepark.co.uk/get-involved/animal-encounters/

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Tommy Lawn at a British wildlife park

 

Drusillas Park, Alfriston, East Sussex

At Drusillas Park you can feed the animals in their “close encounter experiences”. The price for this experience is £80 on a weekday during term time, and £95 at the weekend or during school holidays. If there is a second person there is an extra £45 charge.

https://www.drusillas.co.uk/

 

Thank you very much Tommy Lawn and Finnick Howard for their contribution to this blog.

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!

Zoos in Britain with Capybaras

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

A few zoos in Britain allow you into the capybara enclosure to pet or feed the capybaras. The going rate for this wonderful experience starts at £30 (at Chessington Zoo) and may be as high as £100. In Australia, zoos charge about AU$50 to interact with their wild animals. At Nagasaki Bio Park there is no extra charge for entering the capybara enclosure and you can stay as long as you like.

The following is a list of zoos in England where you can feed and pet capybaras:

https://capybaraworld.wordpress.com/2019/07/15/zoos-in-england-where-you-can-feed-and-possibly-pet-capybaras/

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

WN baby capybara on mother South America

 

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

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

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.

009

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.

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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.