Bugwoman on Location – The Escapees

Dear Readers, I hope you will indulge me as I relate the tale of two intrepid capybaras, now behind chicken-wire at the High Park Zoo in Toronto. For those of you who have never made the acquaintance of the world’s largest rodent (the males are about the size of a retriever), these creatures normally live in South America, and are usually found in wetland areas, where they graze on water plants and provide a perch for all manner of birds.

By Charlesjsharp - Own work, from Sharp Photography, sharpphotography, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44204277

White-throated kingbird utilising capybara (Photo One – see credit below)

In May 2016, a pair of capybaras were delivered to High Park Zoo from Texas. The zoo already had one capybara, named Chewy,  but these rodents live in groups of up to twenty in the wild. However, Chewy didn’t have company for long, as both capybaras escaped within 24 hours, and disappeared into the 400 acres of surrounding parkland. And who can blame them? The park is studded with ponds and lakes and shrubbery. Given a choice between a lawn surrounded by goggling passersby and the peace of a secluded stream, I know which I’d go for.


Chewy, the original capybara, with Toronto mayor John Tory (Photo Two – credit below)

There were frequent sightings of the two capybara, as they eluded all manner of techniques to recapture them, from food bait to recordings of capybara calls. The pair, instantly dubbed ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ were spotted all over the park, enjoying their freedom.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/capybara-live-toronto-video-1.3628334 (Mike Heenan/CBC)

Capybara on the loose (Photo Three – credit below)

Not since Rob Ford was Toronto mayor has the city had such international coverage – the story even made The Guardian, and memes popped up everywhere….


Via Amyfstuart on Twitter – full link below

But the capybaras’ freedom was not to last. One was recaptured after 19 days, by using a trap baited with corn and fruit. The other was to remain free for two months, but was eventually caught too.

However, there is a coda to this story.

Earlier this year, the female capybara gave birth to three pups. When I saw them, they were frolicking in the sunshine, chasing one another around the pen while Bonnie looked on. Clyde (or was it Chewie?) sat by the fence unperturbed, inasmuch as anyone can judge. But I couldn’t help feeling sad. It could have been an environmental disaster if the capybara had stayed on the loose and taken to the waterways of Canada, but more likely the animals would have been killed by cars, or dogs, or would not have survived the Canadian winter. Bonnie and Clyde were deliberately bred to be incarcerated, rather than being taken from the wild. And yet, how we love an escapee – the peacock that wakes up an entire village every morning, the eagle that breaks out of her cage, the tales of strange carnivores wandering on Exmoor. In our hearts, we know that what we do to animals is not what they would choose, if they were given an option. And yet our desire to be close to them, to see them, to pet them, is more important to us than what the animal wants most, which is get on with his or her life unmolested. We are not creatures who are prepared to rein in our desires, whatever the result for our animal neighbours. I wonder if it will eventually cost us the earth.

Photo Credits

Photo One (capybara with kingbird) – By Charlesjsharp – Own work, from Sharp Photography, sharpphotography, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44204277

Photo Two (Chewie with Toronto mayor John Tory) – https://twitter.com/JohnTory/status/735530295580086273/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=http%3A%2F%2F www.theglobeandmail.com%2Fnews%2Ftoronto%2Fcapybara-escape%2Farticle30126980%2F

Photo Three (capybara on the loose) – http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/capybara-live-toronto-video-1.3628334  (Mike Heenan/CBC)

Photo Four (Capybara in car) – https://twitter.com/AmyfStuart/status/735108951138766849/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=about%3Asrcdoc

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7 thoughts on “Bugwoman on Location – The Escapees

  1. Sarah Ann Bronkhorst

    I do so agree with your final remarks about our treatment of and attitudes to animals.

  2. Lynn D.

    We have nutria (or Coypu) living in the creek in our backyard. They are similiar to capybaras and weigh about 12 pounds. They were brought to Oregon for fur farming, but when that was not very succesful, they were turned loose. They burrow into banks and strip them of vegetation and are considered an invasive pest. They are also incredibly cute. One wet winter a shallow pond developed in the vacant lot next door. We looked out one night and a nutria was teaching her five or six children how to swim. One seems to have an uneasy friendship with our cat. They will occasionaly eat the greens in my winter garden. I have seen a nutria in one of our parks eat from the hand of a homeless man. They are said to be delicious.

    1. Bug Woman

      Hi Lynn, when I was growing up we went on holiday to Whitstable in Kent, a flat area laced with ditches. It was inhabited by coypu who, like your Oregon ones, had gnawed their way out of their fur-farm cages. We often saw them delicately eating the reeds, and sometimes would find a dead one. However, they were completely eradicated from the UK during the 1970’s, so no other British person will have the chance to see them in the wild – a rare example of a completely successful deliberate eradication of a non-native animal. I guess the UK government must have spotted them before they got thoroughly entrenched. As always, I’m sad for the individual animals, but I daresay they would have wreaked havoc on the ecosystem…

  3. Veronica Cooke

    Very strange looking creatures but hooray for their brief escape! I love the picture of the Kingbird on the back of a capybara – it truly looks ‘king’ like!


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