Thursday, October 29, 2015
Consider the Capybara
Now here's an animal you'd think would be endangered, but isn't: the Capybara: a semi-aquatic rodent that can weigh up to 200 pounds. They mate only in the water, and when a female is approached by a male she doesn't care for, she submerges or leaves the water.
Although they can run as fast as a horse, they rarely do so because basically why run as fast as a horse unless you need to? Even horses don't run as fast as a horse most of the time. They are generally unafraid of humans. They are hunted for their pelts and meat. Like the beaver, on which more later, Capybara meat can be eaten during Lent, because 17th Century Church fathers officially identified Capybaras as "fish." (Ah, the mysteries of organized religion.)
So we have a large, slow-moving, unusual, edible animal, in a wetland habitat being encroached upon by industrialized man. This would seem a recipe for disaster, survival-of-the-species-wise, but it isn't. Oh, and did I also mention they're a nuisance to farmers? And yet, the Capybara, unlike some species I could name - yes, I'm talking about you, Mr. Kakapo, is doing quite well, thank you, and isn't gotten even close to being on the endangered species list. Its distant cousin, the American Beaver, another aquatic rodent, was on the endangered list a few decades ago, but now is back off again.
Maybe part of the reason the Capybara is not endangered is that it had so many predators to start with - jaguar, puma, and ocelot. Looking at a Capybara, the words wily and evasive don't spring naturally to mind, but maybe they're smarter than they look. If you're going to keep from being eaten by pumas and jaguars for a few hundred thousand years you must be doing something right. Another secret is the Capybara sex-life. In spite of the fact the dominant male tries to keep their mate from fooling around on them, most of his offspring are likely to belong to someone else. Evidently the females don't submerge or leave the water as often as their husbands might like. Unilke the Kakapo - sorry to use you as an example again - the Capybara didn't become flightless. Okay, the Capybara never had wings, but it didn't give up some essential survival adaptation when things got good, unlike Dodos, Kakapos, and Kiwis.
To sum up, here are some of the lessons we can take from Capybaras. Have a good sex life. If your ancestors had some skill, such as flight or running fast as a horse or adding up a whole bunch of numbers in their head - hold onto it and cultivate it; you might not need it now, but it may come in handy when you least expect it. If someone's hanging around you don't care for, submerge or just leave the water. And don't fret the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune now and then - an occasional jaguar or ocelot in your way may not be all bad; like the Capybara, you may find anything that doesn't kill you outright makes you stronger, and if it does kill you, just think of all those good times you had back in the water.
(Originally posted 2013)