Sorry it has taken me so long to write this post. I have been sick for the past week. Nothing serious, just a cold and a cough and complete lack of mental focus. In fact, I’m still a little sick so this is going to be a short post and it may not be as coherent as most.
As you may know, Coral, Sheldon, Stacy and I all went to Panama to see the elusive lesser capybaras in the wild. As far as I know, it is not possible to see lesser capybaras in captivity. I do not know of any zoos or breeders who have them. Unfortunately, this is still true even after our trip. Try as we might, Stacy and I could not find a zoo in Panama that has capybaras. The closest thing we found was a statue of a capybara (shown above) at the Summit Park Zoo. It is a pretty nice statue but wouldn’t a real capybara have been so much better?
This is where we stayed, the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. This is the only place where we actually saw lesser capybaras. I’d like to say something nice about the resort but that would be misleading. Okay, there were some nice things. The rooms were very nice. There were some really nice touches in the decor.
The pool was pretty nice, as you can see.
Coral, Sheldon and I spent some time at the in-pool bar.
The view from our room included the capybara wetland. Unfortunately, I somehow failed to get a photo that shows the whole wetland, tiny as it was. You can see its little offshoot at the bottom right in the photo above. There was a small trench leading to the larger area. This is apparently fed from a pipe that (hopefully) drains runoff from the plentiful rainfall.
I’m not going to dwell on why we were so displeased with the resort but given its obvious beauty I feel I have to say something least you come off thinking it couldn’t have been so bad. Firstly, the service was terrible. If you ordered an item off the menu rather than eating the rather expensive buffet, you can to reconcile yourself to a three hour meal. You would need to get your own coffee or water or wait an hour for that. Ordering a drink at the pool bar likewise meant spending at least another hour there. There were no educational materials about the wildlife. There were no naturalists present or at least we did not have access to them. You were not allowed to go out on the grounds at night (we got in trouble for this but wrangled it into a personal tour with one of the groundskeepers). If you look at the first photo of the hotel at the top of this post, our room was just off the frame to the left. In order to exit the hotel, we had to travel all the way to a point off the frame to the right. In case of a fire, this place would be a death trap. There was another exit that could have taken us out to the front about one building over from ours but the gate was always locked. And the prices for everything were at least as expensive as at a similar hotel in the US. If you want more information, you can email me.
I took the above photo using my 280mm lens from the balcony of our room. How many capybaras do you see? None? Look harder.
Here’s a cropped version of the same photo. Hopefully you can now see three capybaras. There is the obvious one toward the bottom right. One with just its nose sticking out just a little way above it. A third is to the left of the second one. (Remember you can click on the photo to see a larger version.)
To be honest, I only saw two capybaras when I took this photo. It wasn’t until I got home and was editing them that the one with the nose popped up. I have a series of photos that are almost identical but the capybaras shift around a little and in some you can see that capy’s nose and in some you can’t.
In general the capybaras were very shy, unlike the common capybaras I saw in Venezuela, but the people in the above photo were able to get fairly close to one as it went from the smaller wetland area I mentioned earlier to the larger area what you can see in the upper part of this photo.
Another thing I didn’t like about Gamboa was the manicured lawn. In some ways this is very good for the capybaras because that is pretty delicious looking grass. In another, it represents a virtual desert in what would otherwise be a rain forest. This area has obviously been cleared with very little of the natural vegetation left. Of course, you expect some of that but it would be nice if they made a few more concessions for the wildlife. As far as the capybaras are concerned, it would be great if they would create another wetland area like this (or two or three). They have the room for it. That would give a lot more habitat for the capybaras, which would seem like a good thing for the tourists too. As it is, the wetland supports a surprising amount of wildlife including at least eight capybaras, a paca and a small caiman.
In case you don’t know what a paca is I have included a photo of one that I took at the San Diego Wild Animal Park last October. They are large rodents, maybe 15 – 20 lbs. I saw one at night at the capybara wetland but was not able to get its photo. They are pretty adorable animals.
The manicured lawn does also seem to be good habitat for agoutis. They were pretty common most everywhere we went in Panama and most people referred to them as “conejos” or rabbits.
Of course they are not rabbits, they are actually rodents related to capybaras. I’ll have a separate post on them later.
That’s it for now. If you have any questions you specifically want me to answer, leave a comment and I’ll try to address it in my next Panama post.