MARSHY TERRAIN: Capybara family retires to pond when approached for photos.

One member of a foraging herd of capybaras made a dash across a main road in north Central Trinidad and met its bloody end when a passing vehicle hit it, much to the astonishment of occupants of dwellings along the street, who ran out to get a close-up view of the strange animal.

This was not a familiar creature to most of the curious onlookers who likened it to a wild hog but recognised that it was not. New tenants in the neighbourhood, however, seized the chance to make a chiguire cook that evening, this being a way of life back home in Venezuela.

The Venezuelan name for the capybara is chiguire and chiguire arepas are popular back there.

The capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris), an invasive South American species of rodent to Trinidad, is rapidly becoming an assertive part of this island’s flatland habitats, breeding, multiplying and expanding their territories across such terrain.

Semi-aquatic, this animal is the largest rodent in the world and an integral part of the fluvial landscape of neighbouring Venezuela, a working domestic in Warao villages, keeping the environs in and around the ranches clean and representing the friendliest of company around the communities.

In the vast plains across the heart of the country, especially en route to Apure, this animal is multitudinous. Most people regard it as a reliable source of red meat, weighing up to 145 pounds for its four-foot length.

Herds of capybara have since made the wetlands and other open marshy spaces of western Trinidad their home. Being a rodent, a high reproduction rate and sightings of capybara families have ranged from Caroni south to Icacos, east to Moruga, and now inevitably across the Caroni plains to north and east Central.

During early and late afternoon hours, groups of capybaras can be seen feeding among the grasses of marshy terrain. However, though docile in nature, they have become wary of humans and hurriedly make their way through the tall grasses towards the nearest piece of water such as ponds and slow-moving waterways where they submerge and hide, as they did when we approached them.

Besides submerging in water, they also take shelter under dense bushes during the heat of the day. This is why they have so far gone unnoticed by most villagers in the area.

Reports have come in from nearby Delta Del Orinoco that the capybara is now being relentlessly hunted and slaughtered. Lack of gasoline for fishing boats has resulted in a scarcity of food, especially meat.

Conservationists resident in Delta Amacuro cry that it is a sad situation in Mariusa, at the mouth of the Orinoco. The numbers of capybara that are usually seen around settlements have dwindled to alarming scarcity.

“They have not been listed as endangered here yet, but we are apprehensive.”

It is customary in large towns and villages across Venezuela for a rise in demand for chiguire meat during the Lenten period. This year was no different. The meat is dried and salted, and a sancoche made.

The Warao now take their curiaras deeper into the network of distributaries and go through the bushes to find the animals for they have become wary of humans. This can be daunting because it is a large fluvial region.

The animals have also gone scarce along main waterways such as Cocuina and Macarao where they used to be plentiful in and around villages.

In 2019 here in Trinidad, an amendment was made to the regulations under the third schedule of the Conservation of Wildlife Act designating the capybara as vermin. This means that they can be slaughtered as pests.

We do not have the hundreds of miles of grasslands and deltas to accommodate large numbers of the capybara in Trinidad so they will become easy targets for hunters, estates men and, as happened earlier, fast-travelling drivers along roadways.

The two families of capybara here in north Central have managed to escape capture so far and are finding safety and sustenance in the abundance of tall grasses and ponds. Continuing rainy conditions throughout this dry season have so worked in their favour that they have no need to migrate further just yet, until the terrain dries out, if it does, before the next wet season.


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