Human Interest

Animal lovers on mission to protect Sao Paulo’s capybaras from urban waste

By Carlos Meneses

Sao Paulo, May 18 (EFE).- A group of animal lovers have assumed the role of guardians of dozens of capybaras that live on the banks of the Pinheiros River in this southeastern Brazilian metropolis.

Their mission: to protect these semi-aquatic mammals – the world’s largest rodents – from the garbage that surrounds them in that corner of one of the planet’s biggest concrete jungles.

The so-called CAPA project was launched in 2020 by Mariana Aidar, a 45-year-old businesswoman who while cycling alongside that river felt a sense of powerlessness in seeing capybaras and other animals tangled up in different items of urban waste.

“We’ve removed ties, transmission belts, tape, ropes, plastic bags from (their bodies), a little bit of everything,” Aidar, who has been joined in this initiative by veterinarians, field assistants and even a biologist, told Efe.

Around 110 capybaras can be found in the vicinity of a 22-kilometer (13.6-mile) bicycle path that runs alongside both the Pinheiros River and one of the most important ring roads of Sao Paulo, the most populous city in the Americas.

“Hi girls!” Aidar says to a group of capybaras while carrying a bundle of sugar cane under her arm.

Dusk is falling, making it the best time to observe these mammals that weigh an average of 80 kilos (176 pounds). Noticing the presence of Aidar’s team, the capybaras stretch their limbs and move slowly in their direction. They know a snack awaits them.


The rodents act as if they were domesticated and to a certain degree they have been, since that is part of the team’s strategy.

Aidar and the other contributors to the CAPA project use tasty food to accustom the capybaras to their presence.

Once that goal has been accomplished, they are better able to capture injured animals and either heal them or remove some item of waste that has become attached to their bodies – a task they carry out once or twice per month.

“It’s about earning the respect of the animal. They are prey by nature and are going to become frightened if you approach them,” Nadja Rocha, a 39-year-old veterinarian, told Efe.

Prior to winning the capybaras over with sugar cane, the team had made earlier unsuccessful attempts with banana leaves, corn, watermelon and pumpkin.

That conditioning process typically takes between three and five months, although the team has spent a little over a year trying to help a female capybara with a rope tied to her body.

“It’s getting tighter and tighter, so much so that it’s pressed down into her skin. She’s getting thinner and is distancing herself from the other capybaras. She’s suffering, but we’ll figure it out,” said Francesca Rezende, a veterinary student trainee.

The possibility of using a tranquilizer dart has been ruled out, since it would take between 10 and 15 minutes for the anesthetic drug to take effect and there is the risk the animal would escape toward the river before losing consciousness and drowning.

As an alternate solution, the team has built an enclosure with sugarcane inside in hopes they will find her there one day and be able to immobilize her.

Another problem associated with the capybaras is their large reproductive capacity, with females typically giving birth to a litter of four young once a year.

The population of these giant rodents has doubled in this corner of Sao Paulo in just two years due in part to the absence of natural predators like the jaguar or the caiman, and it is expected to keep growing as a program launched by local authorities to revitalize the river makes further strides.

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