Two capybaras arrived at the Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo late Wednesday.
Although they are closely related to guinea pigs, these mammals are rodents of unusual size. Twice as big as beavers, they are the largest rodent species on earth.
Zoo Supervisor and Curator Ashley Burdick drove to the Montgomery Zoo in Alabama – a 30-hour round trip – to pick up the two males, which are brothers.
“They are around 10 months old and their names are Steve and Sam,” Burdick said. “They feed primarily on grasses and other vegetation. They are primarily crepuscular, which means they are most active in the morning and evening. They are also semi-aquatic and spend a lot of their time in the water.”
Their partially webbed toes help them paddle around.
Steve and Sam each weigh about 50 pounds now but could grow to weigh 150 pounds. Adults can be 3-4 feet long and up to 2 feet tall at the shoulder.
Capybaras, or “capys,” are native to Central and South America. They have brown shaggy hair, a barrel-shaped body like a pig and a face that looks like a beaver, but they don’t have a tail.
The zoo’s newest residents were hidden from public view Thursday morning but they are free to come out and explore their new home in the old tiger yard. There’s a small pool that is sure to attract them when the weather is warmer.
“We hope to someday get tigers again,” Burdick said. But before that can happen the yard needs to be expanded. There are also some exhibits with animals in them already that need to be renovated.
“In the meantime, this yard is perfect for capybaras and helps out their species survival plan (SSP),” Burdick said. The Capybara SSP recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a lower priority than one for species that are endangered or threatened in the wild. SSP programs also help to manage animal populations in captivity.
Usually, a new animal at the Great Bend zoo can’t be viewed by the public until it has been in quarantine for a month. But Steve and Sam and being quarantined in their actual exhibit, Burdick said. Precautions will be taken to decrease the potential for disease transfer to other animals. Until they’ve been cleared by the veterinarians, the capys will have a keeper assigned that is not caring for other mammals. While most mammals spend their days outdoors and only have access to the indoor sleeping areas at night, the capybaras will be allowed to move inside during their first days at the zoo, so if the human visitors make them nervous they are free to hide.