Rodents of Unusual Size Take Over Gated Community in Argentina

Weighing up to 175 pounds and growing to four feet in length, capybaras are reclaiming habitat that once was theirs in South America

A passenger in a white truck photographs several capybaras in a yard in a gated community
A passenger in a white truck photographs several capybaras in a yard in a gated community in Tigre. Photo by MAGALI CERVANTES/AFP via Getty Images

A cadre of colossal capybaras have taken over—some might say taken back—a gated community in Argentina, reports Alejandro Jorvat for La Nación. (Like the iconic scene from the 1987 movie The Princess Bride, perhaps Buttercup would be less alarmed by these rodents of unusual size, which are typically rather friendly—though they will bite if provoked.) 

Considered the world’s largest rodent, capybaras are reclaiming territory where they once lived, now occupied by affluent residents in the notable neighborhood of Nordelta, just north of Buenos Aires. Weighing up to175 pounds and growing to four feet in length, the hefty herbivores are generally docile, though people are complaining about them tearing up flowerbeds, chasing family pets and pooping all over groomed lawns, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).

“It’s happening all over the country, in urbanized and non-urbanized areas,” Sebastian di Martino, conservation director at Rewilding Argentina, tells AFP. “It is caused by the alteration and degradation of ecosystems. We’ve extinguished a ton of species that were their natural predators,”

Capybara—known locally as carpinchos—used to roam freely in what is now Nordelta, once an important wetland along the Paraná River until it was cleared by developers in the 1990s to build the community.

“Carpinchos were always here,” Perla Paggi, a Nordelta resident and capybara activist, tells AFP. “We always saw them from time to time. But three or four months ago (builders) went for their last remaining stronghold and the stampede began.

Environmental officials acknowledge that the capybaras are out of control in Nordelta, but also note that the rotund rodents are doing what they normally would do when their habitat has been altered—move back into the area when food sources become abundant again. Capybaras are especially fond of the neighborhood’s ample gardens and pristine lawns.

“Nordelta is an exceptionally rich wetland that should never have been touched,” di Martino tells AFP. “Now that the damage has been done, the residents need to reach a certain level of coexistence with the carpinchos.”

While many residents are complaining about this encroachment in Nordelta and elsewhere, environmentalists point out how the scales have been tipped in local ecosystems across the region. Native to South America, capybaras have forced out of their habitat and are no longer controlled by natural predators, such as jaguars, whose populations also have been decimated by humans, reports Hannah Sparks of the New York Post.

“The carpincho needs a predator to reduce its population and also make it afraid,” Di Martino tells AFP. “When there’s a herbivore without a predator threatening it, it doesn’t hide and can spend all day eating, thereby degrading the vegetation which traps less carbon and contributes to climate change.”

While many people want the capybaras removed, others are more tolerant. In Nordelta, some even advocate that a preserve be built for these rodents of unusual size. Drivers often slow their cars to take pictures while children pose for selfies with the social animals in the evenings, when they tend to be more active.

“We have to learn to live beside them, they’re not aggressive animals,” Paggi tells AFP, adding, “They are defenseless animals, we corner them, we take away their habitat and now we complain because they’re invading.”

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