What swims like fish, nibbles like a rabbit, and barks like a dog? None other than the capybara, the world’s largest rodent. The capybara, or hydrochaeris hydrochaeris, can be found lounging near marshlands and rivers in South America, especially in the Amazon. With a boxy, dopy-looking face, fur-covered pig-like body, and slightly webbed feet, this animal is truly a well-adapted joke of Mother Nature.
The capybara is a peaceful creature and social create. It spends its life nibbling massive amounts of vegetation in order to maintain its startling size: capybaras can weigh as much as a full-grown man, though the average capybara weighs about 120 pounds. They only eat a few types of plants, half of which are aquatic. This poses no problem for the water-loving capybara: this hippo-like animal can hold its breath for up to five minutes.
Usually found in groups from 10-30 animals, the capybara is an easy victim. Both anacondas and jaguars find them tasty and easy prey. The capybara also has to be wary of human hunters, even though much of the capybara habitat is in protected jungle areas. People hunt capybara for the meat (which is similar to pork) and for their pelts. Some farmers believe the capybara competes with grazing livestock for food. Capybaras are at higher risk from humans during Lent. During 40-day period prior to Easter, devote followers of the Catholic faith—the predominate religion in Latin America—do not eat beef or pork on Friday. However, the Catholic Church has approved capybara meat as an acceptable alternative.
The best place to find a capybara in the wild is on a Latin American river bank, where they will be easier to view than in the water or inland. This is a favorite capybara hangout because their webbed feet give them good mobility in both the water and on slippery mud banks, and the bank is the midway point between land and water. An Amazon tour in countries such as Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, or Paraguay with a local tour guide is your best bet for catching a natural glimpse of this funny but fascinating creature.