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Animal Data > Capybara

(Hydrochaeris hydrochaeris)

Status Distribution Sexually Mature
Not listed as threatened S. America, east of the Andes, from Panama to N. Argentina 18 months
Number of Young Gestation Life Span
4 150 days 10 years

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Capybara live in family groups or small herds of up to 20 individuals. A typical group consists of a dominant male, several females and their young and a few subordinate males. They inhabit areas ranging from grassland to rainforest over much of S. America and always remain near water. During the dry season, many of the groups gather around the remaining pools of water to form large, temporary groups of up to 100 animals.

Capybara are nocturnal (active at night) and spend the day resting in shallow hollows in the ground. They feed during the early evening and throughout the night on grass, water plants and bark. Mating takes place in water and after a gestation period (pregnancy) of 150 days the female leaves the group to give birth under the shelter of bushes. The young are fully developed at birth and can eat grass within a week. After 3 or 4 days the mother and young go back to the group and all the mothers share looking after the babies. Young capybara are in danger of being eaten by vultures and foxes, and at the first sign of these predators the whole group rushes into the water with the young protected in the centre. Capybara are excellent swimmers and divers. They can stay underwater for several minutes or float with just their nostrils, eyes and ears showing above the surface of the water. For adults the main predators are jaguars and alligators although the number of these has declined in recent years.

Capybara are still hunted in large numbers for their meat. Their fat is used in the pharmaceutical trade and their teeth are used as ornaments by native people. They are also persecuted for the extensive damage they can cause to crops. Recently there has been a growing interest in the market potential of capybara meat, and they can be successfully farmed alongside cattle.

Main Features

Thickset, heavy body covered in long, bristle like hairs. Reddish or yellow brownin colour. Toes are connected by short webmembrane and have hoof like nails. Males have a prominent scent gland on the bridge of their nose.

The capybara is the largest living rodent.

In Captivity

Capybara do not always breed well in captivity but a number of young have been born at Marwell. They are fed on fruit and vegetables and a special pellet.

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