Capybara invasion stirs class war in Argentina | Science

More information

Just over 20 years ago, Nordelta, one of the most exclusive private condominiums in Argentina, was a wetland. The construction of houses with gardens in this region of the Paraná Delta, where around 40,000 people now live, has altered the habitat of numerous species, including capybaras. The rodents, whose population there is approximately 400 animals, today look for food on lawns and decorative plants that they cannot find on the other side and have become a matter of concern for some residents as they become the center of a debate about the advance. human in the wetlands, as well as an inexhaustible source of memes about the supposed struggle between the rich and the animals.

Capybara is the largest rodent in the world. Adults can weigh up to 60 kilos and measure 1.30 meters in length. They are vegetarians, amphibians and live in colonies. Residents of Nordelta are used to living with animals, which even give their name to one of the 24 neighborhoods in which the large condominium built 40 kilometers north of Buenos Aires is divided, with views of the river and exclusive docks. However, they denounce that, in recent months, the number of animals has grown, leading the animals to take part in damage to gardens, attacking pets and even traffic accidents.

“I want them to remove the capybaras because they attacked my dog ​​in my own garden. They almost killed him,” a resident told the newspaper bugle. “They bit your stomach and legs. Now my puppy doesn’t want to go out anymore. It trembles all the time and my garden, even though it is fenced in, continues to be invaded by capybaras”, added the woman.

The Nordelta Residents Association denounces that “animal activity grew by 17% in the last year alone”, which made some residents “very concerned about the action of capybaras”, while others “think about preserving the fauna without changes as first premise”. Residents like Gustavo Iglesias say they lived in harmony with the animals for a decade, but that, from 2019 onwards, there was “an explosive growth in the number of animals”, which continued into the following year. He also says that there is a risk that “the number could double and six-fold in one or two and three or four years, respectively, if a good number of animals are not removed”. To deal with the situation, they asked the Department of Fauna and Flora of the province of Buenos Aires to intervene.

“In recent years there has been a significant destruction of areas that were not occupied, they were deforested to build and the capybaras have no other option than the regions with houses in their search for new spaces”, warns the researcher from the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research from Argentina (Conicet) María José Corriale.

The proliferation of capybaras triggered the discussion about the advance of large private condominiums in virgin lands. But it also stirred up another debate: that of the rich who isolate themselves in exclusive areas without respecting the surrounding nature. Capybaras have thus become the front line of a class war that, a sign of the times, was waged on social networks. Rodents have played hundreds of games and viral memes in which they are seen reading The capital, transformed into ‘Capi-Marx’ armed as guerrillas, respecting social distance better than humans and appointed as candidates to stamp the (still non-existent) 2,000 peso note for being “patriots of Argentine nature”.

Support news production like this. Subscribe to EL PAÍS for 30 days for 1 US$

Click here

The fact that the invasion took place in Nordelta further fueled the controversy. It is a symbol of a paradise built for millionaires, home to great businessmen, artists, athletes and anyone who can earn a good income. In 2017, the country saw the audio of a resident who complained that in Nordelta there were residents who “are not bad people, but who come from visibly not very good neighborhoods” go viral. “I want to rest visually, because I have moral and aesthetic values,” he said, drawing a tough profile of the upper classes in Argentina. Some time later, the protest of a maid who was prohibited from taking the bus with the residents was released. The capybaras only revived the flame of the “Nordelta snob”.

Meanwhile, experts are trying to solve the environmental impact. Adelmar Funk, a wildlife specialist, agrees with María José Corriale: “Capybara eat the vegetation of rivers and lakes, the tender grass that grows with the moisture in the soil. With so much animal load, it is likely that the pasture on the bank will not be enough and they will have the neighborhood next door, with people who have planted gardens and vegetable gardens”. In his opinion, the absence of predators allowed the capybara population to grow above what would occur in a wild habitat. In addition, the attitude of some residents aggravated the problem: “Some people, instead of scaring them away, saw the animals as a picturesque, friendly animal and began to generate an unnatural relationship. They appear in images kissing, sharing the pool and walking them like they were dogs. In this way, animals changed their behavior, stopped fearing humans and conquered their environment”, he says.

For the two experts, sending the animals elsewhere is not the solution. On the one hand, because of their large size, weight and difficulty in capturing them. On the other hand, because of the impact that animals can have on the new chosen location. “I think that, in the short term, it is necessary to work with measures that allow the coexistence with the species and focus on some conflicts such as traffic accidents. In order to avoid them, it is possible to reduce the maximum speed allowed during the hours when the animals are most active”, says Corriale.

Funk bets on breaking the relationship of the residents with the animals, as well as putting fences in the houses to prevent the entry of animals: “It is likely that, when there is a lack of food on the banks and faced with a restriction on access to the condominium, the animals will look elsewhere . Thus, we would achieve a reduction in population”.

The debate has once again given voice to those calling for a wetland law that halts the advance of humans on these rich ecosystems, fundamental as a freshwater reserve, flood regulators and home to great biodiversity. In the Paraná Delta, the second most important river in South America behind the Amazon, the wetlands are threatened by real estate businesses, but also by fires caused by human action to open the way for livestock and agriculture.

sign up on here to receive the daily newsletter of EL PAÍS Brasil: reports, analyses, exclusive interviews and the main information of the day in your e-mail, from Monday to Friday. sign up also to receive our weekly newsletter on Saturdays, with highlights of coverage for the week.