Metro Morning

Capturing High Park capybaras 'like running after a cheetah'

Catching the pair of capybaras currently on the lam in Toronto's High Park won't be an easy feat, according to an expert with experience wrangling the giant rodents in his native Brazil.

Diogo Beltran has plenty of experience wrangling the rodents that have overrun Sao Paulo

If you happen to see "a lot of rabbit-like poo," chances are there are capybaras within sniffing distance, says an expert in wrangling the giant rodents on Metro Morning. 6:17

Catching the pair of capybaras currently on the lam in Toronto's High Park won't be an easy feat, according to an expert with experience wrangling the giant rodents in his native Brazil. 

"They have this survival instinct. It's like running after a cheetah," said Diogo Beltran, who worked with the Tropical Sustainability Institute in Brazil, a country where capybaras are a major nuisance, not unlike rats or raccoons. 

"In Brazil it's a hobby. We don't go out hunting turkeys — we capture capybaras in our spare time," he said in an interview on CBC Radio's Metro Morning

Two capybaras — a male and a female dubbed by social media as Bonnie and Clyde — escaped from the park's petting zoo on Tuesday. Since then, park staff have tried to lure the pair back into captivity. Meanwhile, the rodents, which can grow to the size of a mid-size dog, have become social media sensations. 

But Beltran said that in Brazil, capybaras aren't always a laughing matter. Now a computer engineer, he once worked to clear large groups of capybaras from construction sites and rivers. He and his colleagues used traps to humanely capture the animals for release in the wild. But it wasn't easy. 
An expert in capturing capybaras has offered several tips on catching the two rodents that escaped from the High Park Zoo in Toronto on Tuesday. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

One reason is that capybaras are semi-acquatic. They can hide in water and remain below the surface for up to five minutes at a time. It's for this reason Beltran says they can't be captured using tranquillizer darts because they'll just run into the water and drown once the sedative takes effect. 

Quick breeders

Another problem? They breed quickly. 

Beltran was once on a team tasked with removing a group of 80 capybaras from a river. They only got 76 of them. The remaining four soon got friendly.

"Three years later, those four turned into 150 capybaras," he said.

He said capybaras aren't aggressive. They generally flee when people show up. But they do come equipped with large teeth and have been known to bite people who try to capture them. 

Beltran said capybaras are a nuisance in that they'll destroy gardens, leave behind large "rabbit-like poo" and, sadly, get hit and killed by cars. Adults can grow to up to 200 pounds.

In Brazil they've also been linked to the spread of disease. 

"They will poo in your yard," said Beltran. "They will eat your flowers and graze on your lawn."

The escaped capybaras are probably loving life right now. High Park is large, with plenty of forests and waterways for them to hide. Also, this week's warmer weather probably has them feeling right at home (capybaras are native to South America). 

But assuming they remain alive and on the run months from now, winter will pose a big problem. 

"They're not going to be able to forage," said Beltran. Also, it will be hard to hide when the leaves are off the trees and Grenadier Pond is frozen solid. 

Meanwhile, anyone who does spot the capybaras is advised to call 311, the city's information line. 

With files from Errol Nazareth

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