Animal World & Snake Farm Zoo’s featured animal for December is the Capybara! We sat down with Animal Care Specialist, Heather, to talk about these incredible animals, and answer some of the questions submitted by our Facebook and Instagram followers.

Can you share with us more about yourself?
Sure! My name is Heather and I’ve worked at several different zoos in Florida and Texas with a variety of animals from birds to small mammals to carnivores. I’ve been lucky to call Animal World and Snake Farm Zoo my home for the past year. My favorite animals to work with here at the zoo are the Coatis, Asian Small Clawed Otters and Ring Tailed Lemurs

Tell us about the Capybaras we have at Animal World and Snake Farm Zoo?
We have two great Capybaras named Dandy and Potato. Potato is almost two years old, and is the bigger of the two. She is very friendly to people and very vocal. Dandy is the smaller one and is less than a year old. He is very spunky and full of personality. They are great with one another and tend to swim together in their pool often.

Swimming? Tell me more about how they like water?
They like to spend a lot of time in their pool as they are semi-aquatic animals. They have webbed feet to assist them with swimming and can stay underwater for up to five minutes at a time! The eyes, ears, and nostrils on a Capybara are strategically located on the top of their head – just like a Hippo. This feature gives them the ability to lift just those parts out of the water to observe their surroundings. They also tend to wake in shallow water to cool down on hot days. 

Can you explain what enrichment is and what you do for our Capybaras?
Enrichment is something we do with all of our animals at the zoo. It’s basically a chance for our staff to give the animals something to interact with that stimulates them both mentally and physically. Oftentimes, enrichment can be used to encourage the animals to use their natural instincts to investigate something new in their daily routine. There are lots of different types of enrichment – sensory,  dietary, environmental, social, etc. For our Capybaras, their favorite enrichment is browse. Our staff uses a pre-approved list to help them select which plants to collect for the Capybara. Potato and Dandy are especially fond of mulberry branches! When we give them their enrichment, they usually investigate it then share it with one another.

What is something neat about a Capybaras diet?
Did you know that they can’t produce Vitamin C? Due to this we often give them oranges, broccoli and bell peppers for nutrition. 

Do they have a favorite treat?
They love corn on the cob, which is great as it does wonders for their teeth. Like other rodents, they have two long and robust incisors that they use to browse on plants and bark. By giving them corn on the cob, it helps tame the length of their ever growing teeth.

You mentioned that Capybaras are rodents… Aren’t rodents small?
Well, a newborn Capybara is slightly small at about 2-3 pounds, but they do grow into being the largest rodent species in the world! They are born in an advanced precocial state which means that they are able to feed themselves almost immediately. Pretty cool huh?

Can you tell us more about when Potato first came to the zoo?
Potato first came to the Zoo back in October of 2020. She was less than a year old and only weighed about 60 pounds. Just like human babies, capybara babies are extremely fragile. During the transport process, she sustained an injury to her leg. When she arrived, our lead veterinarian, Dr. Rierson of Creek View Veterinary Clinic, helped get her on the road to recovery. Because she needed so much special attention when she first arrived, she quickly developed a close bond with many of our staff members who were taking care of her. The relationship Potato developed with our staff during those first few months of her life at the Zoo were crucial. Not only did it allow our staff to provide her with the best quality of care while she was recovering, but it also has carried over into her daily life at the Zoo, over a year later! Because Potato was used to our staff being hands on from a young age, she is very comfortable with them handling her and spending time in her space. This allows routine veterinary check ups and daily care to be a breeze!

What about Dandy?
Like Potato, Dandy also came to us at a young age. We wanted him to socialize a bit before we introduced him to Potato. To do so, we teamed him up with another rodent, the cavies. Our cavies live within our petting zoo, so this gave Dandy the opportunity to turn into quite the social butterfly. I was able to be here when Dandy first came to us which was great as I was able to hand feed him and learn how much he loves scratches under his chest. Being a Zookeeper is really rewarding as we get to bond with the animals and get to know their personalities, like I did with Dandy.

What is your favorite thing about Capybaras?
I love their friendliness and their cute vocalizations! Be sure to listen to them the next time you visit us, it’s adorable.

What about their vocalization is so cute?
When I come to feed them in the afternoon, they greet me at the gate with these high pitch chirps of excitement. I’ll then start to hand feed them, give them scratches and visit with them for a bit. 

Wow, Capybaras are so cool! Thanks for chatting with us Heather!

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