I hope y’all remember little Wesley and Fiona who live at the Snake Farm Zoo in New Braunfels. I’ve been visiting with them ever since Garibaldi Rous died. Fiona is Gari’s little sister and it helps a little to be around her and Wesley.
Wesley and Fiona are also part of the ROUS Foundation’s Why Weight? program. This program seeks to establish capybara health information by studying average weights and weight fluctuations in captive capybaras. Only it turns out capybaras don’t much like to be weighed and Wesley and Fiona are not exceptions.
Even so, Jessica, their caregiver, was able to get initial weights on them back in April. 99 lbs for Fiona and 98 lbs for Wesley. But after that, they refused to get back on the scale. This is where I come in! I volunteered to help train the two capys to go on the scale and to be more handleable and comfortable around people. You can imagine what a hardship this was for me!
‘The first thing Wesley learned was that he likes to be scratched. At first he was shy about it and we had to use a back scratcher. He has since warmed up to being scratched by hand. In fact, his fur puffs out the instant he even thinks someone is thinking about scratching him.
Wesley has very long hair, which is perfect for poofing out to show how serious he is about being scratched.
Fiona is not wild about being scratched. She’s the first capybara I’ve met who is not just crazy about it. Maybe it’s because her fur is too short for poofing up. Maybe she’s embarrassed! (That’s a joke.)
The first thing Fiona learned was to stand up and beg. She is excellent at this. I only showed her how to do it once and ever since them she stands up as soon as she sees food.
I decided to work with Wesley on the scale first, mostly because he is a little dominant to Fiona. I used the target technique I learned from Barbara Heidenreich of Good Bird Inc. Both Wesley and Fiona took to the target right away, although Fiona was–and is–probably a little better at it. I lost the ball that I used to use for a target and so Rick glued on a blue rubber hippo instead. It still works.
I decided to work with Fiona on accepting things around her neck. This is the first step toward harness training.
I’d never worked with two capybaras at the same time before. It makes things more than twice as difficult. Fiona is always sneaking up behind me and grabbing food out of my hand. Or I feel really guilty when I look at her and she is standing up, just waiting for a treat.
As you can see in the photo above, I was making real progress with Wesley on the scale. So close!
The scale has a couple of issues though. The first is that it must be level and all four of its feet must be on solid ground. The second is that it turns itself off after a little while. This last bit means that I have to keep turning it off then immediately turning it back on so that I have the maximum time to try to get Wesley on the scale before it decides to turn itself off again.
Wesley became more and more comfortable with the scale. As you can see in the photo above, he began to think of it as a feeding station. Unfortunately, this lying down position is no good for determining a weight.
Finally the day came when Wesley got on the scale! Unfortunately, he only did it for a moment and the scale was not on solid ground. I decided to wait until the next week to get a real reading. In the meantime, Fiona has really perfected her standing for a treat trick. You can’t just ignore that, it is way too cute.
The next week it was no trouble getting Wesley on the scale. Something snapped in place in his little capy brain and now it seems like he just does it.
The amazing thing is that Fiona somehow also learned to get on the scale! Once Wesley would get on it, she also had no problem getting on. Here you can see her weight reading is 100 lbs 4 oz. Good girl, Fiona! What a smart capybara!
Wesley’s weight came out to 104 lbs plus some ounces but I couldn’t get a reading stable enough to read the ounces.
So both capybaras are healthy and happy and we should have no more (or at least not much more) trouble keeping track of their weights in the future. This will help their keepers monitor their health. Hopefully someday when Fiona gets pregnant, they can watch that on the scale also. It will be interesting to see if weight gain in a pregnant capybara correlates very closely with the number of offspring.
Right now, I am just very, very proud of these two capybaras. Wesley and Fiona, you rock!