Summer is well and truly underway at the Flamingo Land zoo, and the warmer weather has, as always, brought us more babies!
This week we’re welcoming not one, not two, not three, but four new capybara to the group! Our visitors often mistake these South American animals for gigantic guinea pigs or beavers, but you would be forgiven for thinking this is the case as they all in fact belong to the same family of mammals known as rodents.
Many rodents, such as mice and gerbils, make popular pets, but capybara are on a different scale entirely! At over a metre in length and weighing as much as an adult human, they are the world’s largest rodent! Females are slightly larger and heavier than males, though males also have a bump on their snout containing a scent gland which they use for marking their territory. Although capybara are not classed as a threatened species, they are hunted for their meat, hide and fur, and the grease from their skin is used in the pharmaceutical industry.
Despite their size, capybara are surprisingly agile on land, and can run as fast as a horse to escape from their natural predators, which include jaguars and eagles. However, they are semi-aquatic mammals, and so also have a number of adaptations which help them to live in the water. The eyes, ears and nose of a capybara are located on top of the head, so they can still see, hear and smell even when most of their body is submerged. If necessary they can even sleep underwater with only their nostrils poking out! They have coarse but sparse fur which, though not waterproof, dries out extremely quickly and does not get clogged with mud. They also have plenty of fatty tissue which helps to keep them buoyant in the water.
The young capybara can be seen from our Treetop Walkway in the South American section of the zoo. Capybara youngsters will stay together in a crèche and be looked after by the whole group, so you will often see them together with their extended family. Keep an eye out by the lake as their semi-aquatic nature means they feel safest there, with potential escape routes from predators both in the water and on land.