Capybara Aggression

 

Caplin Rous snarling

Owner’s blog:

This blog post is going to cover the dark side of pet capybaras. You knew that all that cuteness had to be balanced with a touch of danger, didn’t you?

Capybaras are herd animals. This makes them experts at recognizing other members of their band (that’s what a herd of capybaras is called). They are also very good at communicating with each other, as you can tell from their wide repertoire of vocalizations. But it also means that they have a dominance hierarchy and that most young males are expelled from the band to live lonely, and probably short, lives on their own.

This instinctive imperative is still present in captive capybaras who are at most only a few generations removed from nature, red in tooth and claw. In the photo above, you can see Caplin Rous snarling at someone. While Caplin was typically the sweetest, most patient and loving animal in the world, he did have his quirks. One quirk was that he hated both of my (adult) children, especially Philip.

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Caplin was about six months old when he first displayed aggression

In the video above, you can see the first time Caplin ever displayed any aggressive behavior. You can see that he is circling, which at the time I thought was just curious but which is actually very aggressive. When he circled, he was looking for an opportunity to lunge in for a bite. The second aggressive behavior is clicking, which can be heard most clearly at about 1:50 in the video. Standing on the hind legs can also be aggressive. Because their mouths are underslung, capys cannot bite unless they get their head up. The fourth and last aggressive behavior shown in the video is actually attempting to bite. Philip’s reaction was to give him a little whack in the side of the head. It turns out this is exactly the wrong thing to do. I learned the hard way that any kind of physical reprimand will only escalate the situation, capys do not back down.

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One year later, Caplin is still aggressive toward Philip

This video was taken almost exactly a year later. Caplin is much larger and much more aggressive toward Philip. You can also see how Philip’s behavior only makes things worse. I learned from this that it is just as hard to control a human’s behavior as a capybara’s.

In between these two videos, Caplin went through a phase where he was very aggressive toward me. This is documented in this blog post, When Capybaras Bite. Caplin and I slowly worked through this, generally by me backing down and being as non-aggressive as possible. For several months I had to watch him closely and sit down whenever he got agitated.

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After 2.5 years, Caplin and Philip try to work things out

As you can see in the video above, after 2.5 years, Caplin still remembered that he hated Philip. In this video, Philip is making a more sincere effort at establishing a friendship and I think Caplin is too. But some of Philip’s movements are still too quick and his language is a bit too loud. Using the barrier took away some of the stress and having Philip sit down helped a lot. As I said above, capys stand on their hind legs to attack so a person standing can be interpreted as a threat posture. I think that if we had done more of this, Caplin would eventually have come to accept Philip.

The reason I am posting about this now is that another capybara owner is faced with a similar problem. His 6-month-old capy named Romeo has just started to display aggressive behavior.

Romeo attacks!

I think Romeo’s behavior is a lot like how Caplin reacted to me during his aggressive phase. It is so frustrating and heart breaking because you love your capy so much and then he suddenly turns on you. As you can see in this video, Romeo gets quite serious about attacking and then comes over and wants to be pet. That’s exactly what Caplin did to me: I love you, but I want to kill you. But the good thing is that with love, patience and an understanding of capybara psychology, this can be overcome and the original loving relationship restored.

Neutering may help prevent or attenuate aggression in capybaras but then again, it may not. Caplin was still aggressive even after neutering.

Another thing about Caplin was that his aggression was clearly territorial, except toward Philip for whom he developed a special antagonism. When Caplin was away from our house, he never displayed any territorial behavior no matter how many people or other animals he encountered. At home, he was usually good with people for a few hours but the longer they stayed, the more annoyed he became with them. He did not want people to stay the night or to come over two days in a row.

Also, I recently learned of a case where a young male capybara attacked a dog co-pet and did serious damage to where the dog required surgery. This was probably territorial behavior. That is the only instance of aggression I have heard of from a capybara toward another pet other than a capybara.

Not all males go through this, Garibaldi Rous has never been the least bit aggressive. And I haven’t heard of a female capy becoming really aggressive, but that’s not to say it couldn’t happen.

So think long and hard if you’re considering a pet capybara.

12 comments to Capybara Aggression

  • Francine

    I remember when Philip tried to buddy up with Caplin again.

    Every animal is a different person, and you just never know how it’s going to be. It’s especially true with what’s essentially a wild animal. I would love to someday have a capy, but it’s not feasible here in the north, and honestly, I don’t know if I have the chops to go through all you went through with Caplin, and with Gari. Or what Stacey does with Dobby! They are so wonderful, I so hope that I can meet Gari (and you!) someday, but dang.

    I have a grey parrot, domestically bred. He adores me, but he has severely beaked me, and he will do so again. HE IS A WILD ANIMAL. All we can do is learn their minds, and redirect them. I’ve often said that we don’t train parrots, we elicit their cooperation. I really believe that to be true of all wild animals.

    I’m so glad Gari is a gentle ‘bara.

  • Stephanie

    Good to know about the aggressive behavior!

    But…can’t help myself…Caplins’s snarling face is just SO cute! I would probably feel differently if I was standing in front of a snarling capybara.

  • Capybaras make wonderful pets for people who are willing to adjust their lives to accommodating wild quirky behavior, and aren’t afraid of being bitten during the learning process. Dobby bit me twice when he was very young and very sick. Since then, Dick and I have been subjected to several almost-bites: huge, sore, abraded and bruised areas with distinct teeth marks, but luckily, no flesh removed. His propensity to bite lasted from about 6 months to 18 months, after which his aggression became more sexually oriented. I finally had him neutered at 2-1/2 years because of this issue. Dobby is still aggressive toward Dick, but manageably so. Dobby has recently become aggressive toward both my grown children, and he is wary of male visitors who stay too long. On the other hand, there are workmen who come through here regularly who are completely accepted by Dobby. Dobby’s yard is double-gated for security and in addition, he has a pen where he can be secured. I rarely leave him unattended in the front yard. Dobby’s kitchen area serves to confine the mud and debris he tends to carry with him, but also provides a safe environment so Dick can continue to care for and interact with him. It also serves as a safe area to introduce Dobby to visitors, and to allow viewing by small children and skeptics. Dobby’s visitors receive an etiquette briefing before they enter his territory, and Dobby has been taught that “visitor” means that they will leave after a brief encounter. Capybaras are extremely gentle and affectionate, for a wild animal. But make no mistake, they are wild animals, with all their instincts intact.

  • I am much more aggressive than Gari, but probably not as feisty as Caplin. Romeo is probably somewhere in between, like me. I don’t really understand about changing my behavior, I just react to whatever is happening to me. If you want me to stop doing something, you need to think about what you are doing, and stop it!
    That’s why a predictable routine is so helpful. I have to stop at the gate to put my harness on before I go to the front yard. Would I put on my harness in the kitchen? Nope. Well, maybe, but I would probably try to bite someone. We really don’t have many ways to communicate, though I am known for one other way. :o)

  • Laurie Coppola

    It seems reasonable that at the age when young, male capys would be driven from the band, they would become aggressive to try to beat the dominant male who is driving them away! Domestic capys may see anyone in authority as that dominant male, and act accordingly. If you back down, that makes him the dominant male, and he will try to drive out the other dominant males. It must be a bit confusing when the other potential dominant males aren’t always male, and when without them, the capy wouldn’t get fed. Wild and domestic clashing in confusion. Since Capys are giant guinea pigs, no reason to think neutering would do any more than keep them from propagating. It has no effect on aggressive behavior.

  • francine

    Are female capys known for this kind of behaviour?

  • Marvin & Elizabeth

    Although it has only been a short time, we can see that Neutering Romeo has eliminated the aggressive behavior he exhibited in the video. We only wish we had done it sooner. We will be neutering Tuff’n as soon as the vet feels it is safe to do so. Altering an animal is unnatural and very very painful for them. In the future once Romeo and Tuff’n have lived hopefully long and happy lives, if we decide to get another CapyBara, we would more then likely get a Female, if for no other reason not to have to put them through this kind of ordeal. With everything taken into consideration, the Capy’s have made our lives Richer and Fuller, we have been able to experience a kind of Love and Bonding much different than with most domestic animals. Capy’s don’t automatically except you, but when they do, it evokes emotions and brings fulfillment. A CapyBara is a wonderful pet if you are retired and need a hobby and a friend.

  • Hej from Sweden !

    This is so great to read about your unusual pet. I was looking forward to watching your video, but they come up “private” and I can’t watch them. How can I watch them?

  • Garibaldi Rous

    This should be fixed now.

  • Barbara Brooks

    I wonder if anyone has tried neutering male capybaras using clamps when they are very young. I read about how this is done with calves, and it seems to be painless. Probably to get the full benefit of neutering, it would make sense to do it well before the first signs of aggression.

  • Steve

    Hitting a capybara is cruel (1:38 in the first video).

  • L C

    There is was no need for your ass of a son to hit the capybara, especially a delayed strike out of anger as it appeared to be. Made me sick to be honest. Maybe the capy has seen him act this way to other members of the family? I’d hate him too.

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