capybara

Toronto is thrilling right now to the news that two huge rodents are on the loose. Huge. The size of dogs.

Well, I suppose that’s better than having two chupacabras on the loose. Much better, in fact. But these creatures at least have a similar name: they’re capybaras.

How is capybara pronounced? /kapɪˈbɑːrə/ – sort of like it should be the coffee bar at the Copacabana. I’m tempted to say that two of them are gone because the first one escapyed and the second one was a capycat, but that’s trite. You can read more of the saga in this Toronto Star article, “Fugitive High Park Zoo capybaras duo elude search party after morning escape.”

The word capybara comes to us probably from Tupi, a language of South America; it appears to mean ‘grass eater’. The Latin name for these beasties is Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris, which is a Latinization of Greek for ‘water pig’ – twice. (They’re not pigs, true, but neither are guinea pigs, which are capybaras’ closest relatives.) One way or another, they’re tailless things that seem generally inoffensive. Here’s a pet capybara repeatedly doing something like what the High Park duo may have done:

Well, if the door is open, they’re capyble of using it…

My first introduction to the capybara came thanks to the cartoon character The Tick, a prodigiously stupid superhero who, in one concussion-induced daze, encounters a capybara and adopts it as a pet:

Good luck for the capybara that The Tick wasn’t looking for a low-carb lunch. Its meat is eaten in some places, and in fact it can even be eaten during Lent by Catholics in some parts of South America. It’s not threatened – there are lots of them (capyous numbers?), so hunting is quite legal.

But where do you look if you want to find a capybara? Start by looking for other capybaras. They’re very gregarious animals. And where do you find the other capybaras? Down by the water, eating grass, of course. You haven’t forgotten the etymologies already, have you?

We can only assume that when the High Park duo are finally found, that is where they will be. The only problem is that there’s a lot of water and grass in High Park, so it may take a while…

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