Did Ryoko Capybara Suffer a Partial Miscarriage on the afternoon of Thursday, August 16? 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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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 she was constantly attacked by Maple who wanted her 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 because she 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

 

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Choco in Water Channel Trough

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.

Capybara Teeth. カピバラの歯, Dientes de capivara, Зубы Капибары, 水豚牙,

WN Crop 40% Choco Yawn 07 September 2017 015

Choco

Another striking feature of capybara is their unpaired, ever-growing cheek teeth whose very complicated occlusal surface design changes throughout the capybara’s life. Capybaras like horses and rabbits have high crowned teeth, known as hypsodont teeth, an adaptation to extend the life of teeth and therefore the life of the animal. In these teeth the roots delay their development and the crown keeps on growing throughout the life of the animal. In capybaras the occlusal morphology of their cheek teeth is so peculiar that a special nomenclature (system of names) had to be developed to describe them! This very intricate occlusal surface design grows more complex throughout the capybara’s life. They are able to reduce the plants they eat to very small particles which aids the absorption of nutrients.   Capybara teeth are razor sharp.

more teeth and jaws

In the wild, in their natural habitat, capybaras eat primarily grasses, sage and aquatic plants. They also chew on the bark of trees and bushes. These coarse foods ensure the health of capybara teeth. It is essential for capybaras who are kept in captive environments, such as zoos or as pets, to have a diet which replicates as closely as possible their natural diet in the wild. This means they must have access to coarse foods. Several pet capybaras have died due to tooth problems which developed as a result of the wrong diet. The capybaras at Nagasaki Bio Park chew on stones to keep their teeth healthy. They also chew on palm fronds.

Capybaras often chew on stones, bark or twigs to keep their teeth healthy:

With hypsodont teeth the roots delay their development and the crown keeps on growing throughout the life of the animal. Hypsodonty is an adaptation to extend the life of the teeth and thereby the life of the animal. Rates of tooth decay may be influenced by eating more abrasive plant tissues, or plants on which wear inducing particles such as windblown grit adhering to the surface of the plant. Hypsodonty is also related to open environments in which animals feed closer to the ground.

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Hinase

teeth and jaws

yasushi-yawning-2012-august-capybara-world

Yasushi

WN JPEG Donguri yawning video SnapShot(0)

Donguri, the capybara who owned me

head skull

Head skull

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

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

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

Behaviour based husbandry incorporates all elements of good animal welfare: good health, psychological well-being, and the expression of natural behaviours. In addition to the design and enrichment of the enclosure, we MUST also ensure positive human animal relationships. The capybara must have choices so that he/she has some control over his life, his environment and his daily routines, as he would in the wild in his natural habitat.

It is imperative that keepers do not try to control capybaras. Rodents, as a species, are particularly intolerant of being controlled. Keepers must understand capybara behaviour. They must be sensitive to a capybara’s mood and what the capybaras’ behaviour is communicating, otherwise the capybara will suffer stress.

In order to understand capybara behaviour the keeper must immerse himself in the lives of the capybaras in his care. He must learn the relationships between the capybaras in the herd. He must be aware that these relationships may change. He must be able to distinguish between different behaviours in order to understand their significance. A good capybara keeper will intuitively understand animal behaviour. He will need to be sensitive and intelligent. He will need to have the patience and interest in capybara behaviour to spend long hours observing capybara behaviour.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

pond Donguri eating bamboo

The Large Pond with Trees and Bushes

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

 WN Aki escapes to eat grass August 2012

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

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

empty pond who stole

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

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

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

WN scent marking capybara straddling plant for a blog

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

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

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

The physical enrichment of the enclosure should include:

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

WN pond play

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

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

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

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

Juanita eating grass

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

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

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

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

Romeo swimming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20% May 16 2014 Mud 045

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

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

 

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

The basic Animal Welfare protocol is The Five Freedoms:     

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

“Theory of Mind”: Capybara Intelligence

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

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

Choco looking very happy trough

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

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

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

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

Donguri leg injury waits hospital room 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Choco in trough distant view

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choco in monkey house 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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