Saturday, June 11, 2016

Rooting for Toronto's capybaras

Capybara fever is in full flight in Toronto at the moment.
Two capybaras escaped from their cage in Toronto's High Park Zoo back on May 24th, and are still at loose in the park, despite the attentions of a whole battery of city staffers, rodent experts from Toronto Zoo and the Ministry of Natural Resources, local capybara breeders (what?!), and even a Brazilian ex-wrangler of capybaras. Park staff have tried to coax them home by playing capybara calls over a speaker, but the wily rodents are having none of it. A series of cages baited with corn and fruit remain unvisited (by capybaras, at least). Heartfelt but spurious sightings of the animals from as far away as Scarborough are commonplace.
The cute, if rather ungainly, animals have certainly caught Toronto's collective imagination, and have provided plenty of ammunition for the Internet's meme-making machine. Dubbed Bonnie and Clyde by many, the capybaras have found their way onto photoshopped Blue Jays logos and CN Tower advertising, and have even colonized Steve McQueen's motorcycle from The Great Escape. They boast not one but two Twitter accounts.
TV news crews have shared long, breathless clips of the capybaras in the park, and local amateur naturalists have been able to snap several good photos of the rodents in their new habitat. But no-one seems to be able to get near them (bear in mind, they can run at 35 km/h when pressed, they are prodigious swimmers, and they are, well, just shy).
However, the increasing media and tourist attention is likely to spook the animals, and one can easily imagine them coming to grief on a park road or, an even sadder prospect, out in the concrete jungle surrounding the park. If they were to make it down to the none-too-distant shores of Lake Ontario, though, the whole continent (and its wealth of grasses and aquatic plants) is theirs for the taking. Most of Toronto is rooting for them.

As of June 28, both capybaras were back in their pens in High Park Zoo. One was caught in a trap baited with fruit and corn back on June 12th. The other lasted until this Tuesday, after a five-week jaunt through the park.
What will the local press have to write about now?

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