WEST PALM BEACH — A female capybara has arrived at a Florida zoo as part of a breeding program to bolster the population of the large South American rodents.

Iyari, a 10-month-old capybara, went to the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society in May from the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. She’s in a mixed-species habitat with a couple of Baird’s tapirs, which live in similar habitats in South America, while zoo workers slowly introduce her to the park’s 2-year-old male capybara, Zeus.

“We think that there’s a little bit of love in the air,” Palm Beach Zoo general curator Mike Terrell said. “Whenever they look at each other from afar, we kind of see that look in their eyes like, ‘Hey, I want to hang out with them a little bit more.’ So everything right now is very positive.”

Iyari’s move to South Florida began with a recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The organization manages the total population of capybaras and other animals in each AZA facility, with the understanding that the animals’ genetics could possibly contribute to wild populations in the future.

Capybara gestation is about five months with an average litter of four. Palm Beach Zoo officials aren’t sure when to expect baby capybaras. Terrell said it will all depend on how long it takes Iyari and Zeus to get to know each other.

Capybaras are the largest rodent species in the world, and they look like giant guinea pigs. They live in savannas and dense forests near bodies of water. They’re a social species, usually found in groups of dozen or so, but sometimes up to 100.

The herbivores are not endangered, but Terrell said these “ecosystem engineers” eat plants and keep waterways clean for other animals to live in.

“They’re critical to their ecosystem,” Terrell said.

Palm Beach Zoo visitors can see Iyari in the park’s Tropics of the Americas section. The 23-acre park located in West Palm Beach is home to hundreds of animals, many of them endangered.



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