Giant South American rodent spotted in California

LOS ANGELES Wed Aug 17, 2011 10:47am EDT

A capybaras (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris), born in captivity 15 days ago, follows its mother at the Santa Fe Zoo in Medellin March 8, 2010. REUTERS/Albeiro Lopera

A capybaras (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris), born in captivity 15 days ago, follows its mother at the Santa Fe Zoo in Medellin March 8, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Albeiro Lopera

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A giant South American rodent weighing at least 100 pounds (45 kgs) was spotted at a waste-water treatment facility in California recently before disappearing in the brush, according to a wildlife official.

The animal, which was identified as a capybara, is the world's largest rodent and feeds on vegetation.

"If you think a giant guinea pig is cute, then you probably would like it," said Todd Tognazzini, of the California Department of Fish and Game.

The capybara is believed to be an escaped pet, Tognazzini said. It was last seen about two weeks ago at a waste-water treatment facility in Paso Robles, 175 miles northwest of Los Angeles, he said.

An employee at the plant took photos of the animal as it crawled out of a pond.

The capybara's South American habitat ranges from Panama to northeast Argentina, east of the Andes, according to a description on the website of the San Francisco Zoo.

The animal spotted near the Salinas River and a hot spring, a watery habitat that in some ways resembles the regions where capybaras live in South America, Tognazzini said.

A capybara can hold its breath under water for up to five minutes, and the animal spends much of its roughly four-year lifespan near the water, he said.

The latest spotting of the capybara comes two years after another sighting of the animal a mile away.

Officials believe it was the same animal last seen at the waste-water treatment facility in Paso Robles, and that there are no other capybaras in the area.

In California, the capybara cannot be held as a pet without a special permit. But that does not mean that some people do not keep them as illegal pets.

"The Internet is fraught with examples of people scratching them on the belly and thinking they're cute and making pets of them," Tognazzini said.

The California Department of Fish and Game do not view the animal as dangerous.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Dan Whitcomb)

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Comments (3)
allotta wrote:
If officials believe there are no other capybaras in the area, then where did little critter in the picture come from? Has to be at least one other capybara around somewhere!

Aug 17, 2011 2:56pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
ejbaum wrote:
@allotta – if you read the caption with the picture you will find that the photo was taken at the Santa Fe Zoo. This is not a picture of the one the story speaks about…

Aug 17, 2011 5:59pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
baadshepherd wrote:
I live in the area, and years ago some capybara escaped from the Santa Barbara zoo. I can’t find any reports online for it, I just looked, but I believe it was in 1997 or 98 and they were seen by numerous people, and have been seen since. I assume that this is in fact one of those capybara, although it could as well have been a pet. It is interesting to think that we have giant rodents in the wilderness here.

Aug 21, 2011 12:54pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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