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Venezuela Hates Capybaras

 

Capybara family at Hato El Frio, Venezuela

Capybara family at Hato El Frio, Venezuela

(Owner’s Blog)

In Febrary of 2007, my kids (Coral & Philip Waters) and I went to Venezuela. One of the places we went was a large ranch called Hato El Frio in the Los Llanos region. Los Llanos is often reffered to as the New World equivalent of the African plains. Such a tremendous abundance of wildlife! And among those swamps and plains roam the world’s largest rodents, the capybaras.

Capybaras have disappeared in parts of their range where they are over-hunted or where there has been significant habitat destruction due to farming, daming and deforestation. Hato El Frio was one place where they still occurred in large number due to the ranche’s progressive attitudes.

Hato El Frio (and Hato El Cedral, although I did not visit there) were experiments in sustainable ranching along with ecotourism. Dams were built to encourage wildlife to remain year-round and to provide more habitat for aquatic or semi-aquatic species. In addition, cattle and water buffalo were raised for meat. Capybaras were also “harvested” but in a sustainable manner. For decades the ranch maintained a science station that studied the affects of ranching on wildlife populations.

The following photos show some of the interesting animals that we saw on our week-long stay.

Tamandua or Lesser Anteater at Hato El Frio, Venezuela

Tamandua or Lesser Anteater at Hato El Frio, Venezuela

Giant Anteater at Hato El Frio, Venezuela

Giant Anteater at Hato El Frio, Venezuela

Rufous-tailed Jacamar at Hato El Frio, Venezuela

Rufous-tailed Jacamar at Hato El Frio, Venezuela

Three species of Ibis at Hato El Frio, Venezuela

Three species of Ibis at Hato El Frio, Venezuela

Scarlet Macaws Flying at Hato El Frio, Venezuela

Scarlet Macaws Flying at Hato El Frio, Venezuela

Howler Monkey at Hato El Frio, Venezuela

Howler Monkey at Hato El Frio, Venezuela

I could go on but you are probably wondering what the point is. So let me get to it. The Venezuelan government, under Hugo Chavez, has nationalized Hato El Frio and Hato El Cedral. See this article, Venezuela Coverts Tourist Destination into Farm Land.

I doubt that they are even now maintaining the Hatos’ programs to rebuild populations of the seriously endangered Orinoco crocodile, red-footed tortoises, Orinoco side-neck turtles or river dolphins. I doubt that they are concerning themselves with sustainability. These ranches have served as a beacon to the region as to what can be done to use the land while retaining wildlife. Now all of that is gone.

This is a terrible tragedy made even worse by the fact that most Americans–who live so close–don’t even know what the world is losing. Most Americans don’t even know what a capybara is. Caplin and I are devastated. No species is safe if people and governments don’t care.

(Follow this link to see more of my photos of Hato El Frio including more capybara photos.)

Now We Come in Colors!

Big news! Tired of your same old sorrel-colored capybara? Even the white tipped hairs of the older individual seeming just a bit hum-drum? Well, your days of being jaded by our incredible cuteness are over! Now capybaras also come in snow white!

Yes, it’s true. An albino capybara was born at a zoo in Uruguay on Christmas Day, 2009. Her name is Snow White, or Blancanieves in Spanish, and she is gorgeous! Check out this article and photos and welcome to the world of colorful capybaras.

Bolivia, Venezuela, LA Times and Me

Two young capybaras cross the road (Image from LA Times)

Two young capybaras cross the road (Image from LA Times)

Bolivia plans to export capybara meat to Venezuela;
famous capybara Caplin Rous is horrified.

I was quoted in the LA Times this week in an article by Lindsay Barnett. Normally this would make me very excited and happy but the topic of the article brings much stress to my little capy heart.

I am so worried about my wild cousins. It’s not like they don’t have enough to worry about with anacondas, jaguars, crocodiles, caiman, piranha, cars and humans hunting them for local consumption. Now my relatives in Bolivia are going to hunted and exported (dead) to Venezuela. I don’t think this is a good idea, and not just because we are adorable, smart, affectionate animals that would be much better appreciated alive.

Hunting capybaras will naturally make them much more reclusive. It will get harder and harder to spot them in the wild, even if their numbers don’t decline. As I said above, we are smart animals and we will figure out what’s going on in no time. This will hurt Bolivia’s ecotourism industy since ecotourists like it when they can see animals, especially large, cute animals like capybaras.

Also, capybaras are being ranched in Venezuela. It would be better to encourage that rather than importing animals from elsewhere. Ranching is (hopefully) done in a sustainable manner. The ranch owners have much more at stake in maintaining the local populations than hunters do. Sadly, hunting has greatly diminished our numbers, or even completely wiped us out, in large areas of our former range.

In some ways humans are smart but in others they are really slow learners. I hope they don’t learn too slowly for my wild cousins to survive.

Oh, and I wish people would stop saying that I should be in the wild! It’s starting to make me mad. The wild sure isn’t what it used to be.

Wild Capys in Venezuela

Capybaras at sunset.

Capybaras at sunset.

One of the reasons my owner decided to get me was because she saw my wild cousins on her last trip to Venezuela. That was in Feb. 2007 and she got me that July. Not a coincidence. So I owe these capybaras my very life…or at least my lifestyle. I have to admit, I have it pretty cush. These capys have no idea there even is such a thing as air-conditioning, or even heating for that matter. Imagine what that must be like.

Capybara family. Male in front, female and infant.

Capybara family. Male in front, female and infant.

I love looking at these photos even though I wouldn’t really like to be a wild capybara. It is something to dream about but not something to really do. What would it be like to live in a big band like this one?

Band of wild capybaras at Hato El Frio, Venezuela

Band of wild capybaras at Hato El Frio, Venezuela

And I’ve always wanted a bird to come sit on my back. These North American birds just won’t do it.

I want a bird on my back like these two capys have.

I want a bird on my back like these two capys have.

The dark side of the story is the dangerous predators wild capybaras face. I don’t know why my owner and her kids seem to happy hold this killer animal. Don’t they know how dangerous anacondas are?

My owner (Melanie) and kids (Coral and Philip) with deadly anaconda.

My owner (Melanie) and kids (Coral and Philip) with deadly anaconda.

This caiman is probably stalking a baby capybara. They are ruthless murderers of small capys.

A killer caiman no doubt searching for baby capybaras.

A killer caiman no doubt searching for baby capybaras.

If you want to see capybaras in the wild, my owner and I recommend Hato El Frio, where these photos were taken.