Mar 05

THE FT TOP 25 ANIMALS – 3. Capybaras

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There are only two salient facts about the capybara. 1: They are the world’s largest rodent. 2: They look a bit like a giant guinea pig. Actually this second isn’t totally accurate – guinea pigs are furry with tiny legs and capybaras are bristly with proportionally longer legs – but the idea is a sound one. Capybaras are, like guinea pigs, very cute, do not appear particularly bright and if you’re a certain type of person as soon as you see one you want it as a pet.

I don’t think Capybaras make particularly good pets. In their native Venezuela great herds of them roam the pampas and are gobbled up by caymans. They may well also be gobbled up by man, as are their guinea-pig sort-of-relations. They are, though, still wild animals, which is another clue to their appeal – wild beasts which look like they should be tame.

Isabel and I always planned that our honeymoon would be in Venezuela, watching capybaras in the wild. I had visions of us on a ranch and the tourist-handling guy asking each morning what wonder of nature we wanted to see. “The capybaras again please”. “Crazy gringos.” However political unrest in Venezuela when we were booking made us pick Poland instead and see the bison. The herds of wild bara are still in my future: the nearest tame ones to most of our readers will be a newish pair in the Cotswold Wildlife Park about 15 miles from Oxford. They replaced an ancient specimen who had lost most of his hair and was extremely tame (or just slow), allowing my wife to pat him before he wandered off to continue the traditional capy pursuits of eating, sleeping and standing about in pools.


  1. 1
    Mark M on 3 Oct 2010 #

    They’re terrific – saw them in the wild(ish) in Colombia back in the day (it was actually on someone’s ranch, I think; we were staying on a palm plantation – how ecologically villainous is that?). Although they are clearly related to guinea pigs, I think a better comparison point for the appeal of the capybara/chiguiro is thinking of them as smaller, furrier and totally non-deadly hippos. There were small caiman in the pond on the plantation, and my father and I went looking for them in a rowing boat that was rapidly taking in water… It would’ve made a great newspaper story if we’d got ourselves eaten.

    On the other hand, we never got to see the Polish bison because there was an outbreak of foot and mouth disease when we were on holiday where they live.

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