The families of a giant rodent native to South America have taken over a luxury gated community in Argentina, highlighting the country’s controversial environmental and social policies.
Nordelta is a 1,600 ha luxury private urban complex built on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, on a wetland of the Parana River which is the natural habitat of the capybara.
Many residents of Nordelta have complained about the ruin of Capybara’s manicured lawns, pet bites and traffic accidents.
Also known as the carpincho or chiguire, the capybara is the largest rodent in the world and can grow up to 1.35m in length and weigh 80kg.
“Nordelta is an exceptionally rich wetland that should never have been touched,” said biologist Sebastian di Martino, director of conservation at the Rewilding Argentina Foundation.
“Now that the damage is done, the inhabitants must reach a certain level of coexistence with the carpinchos,” said Di Martino.
Built 20 years ago, Nordelta has houses, offices, a shopping center, schools, a church, a synagogue and an artificial lake that is home to waterfowl.
But since construction of a clinic began on the last remaining piece of natural land, many residents have seen a sudden “invasion” of capybaras.
“The carpinchos were still there. We still saw them from time to time. But three or four months ago [builders] went to find their last remaining stronghold and the stampede began, ”said Perla Paggi, a Nordelta resident and capybara activist.
Nordelta and similar luxury wetland developments have also been a controversial topic in Argentina.
In addition to eating away the natural habitat of the capybara, the large-scale development of the wetland means that the soil can no longer absorb the heavy rains, which end up inundating the surrounding poorest neighborhoods.
In a politically polarized Argentina, leftists have long attacked Nordelta as an example of elite exploitation, while jokingly portraying the capybara as a working class hero.
Lack of predators
Di Martino says that the proliferation of capybaras is harmful to the environment, but it is also the fault of humans.
Capybaras are prey for jaguars, pumas, foxes, feral cats and wild dogs, but all of these animals are now virtually extinct in Argentina.
“It’s happening all over the country, in urbanized and non-urbanized areas. It is caused by the alteration and degradation of ecosystems. We have extinguished a ton of species that were their natural predators, ”said Di Martino.
“The carpincho needs a predator to reduce its population and also scare it off,” said Di Martino.
“When there is a herbivore without a predator threatening it, it does not hide and can spend all day eating, degrading vegetation which traps less carbon and contributes to climate change.
In the wild, capybaras live between eight and 10 years and give birth to litters of up to six cubs once a year.
Not everyone in Nordelta sees them as a nuisance. In fact, they have become the main attraction of the residential complex.
Drivers slow down to take pictures of them, while children search for them after dark for selfies.
Some residents of Nordelta want to create a nature reserve for capybaras.
“We have to learn to live next to them, they are not aggressive animals,” Paggi said.
“A reserve of 20 to 30 ha is sufficient to maintain diversity. They are helpless animals, we monopolize them, we take away their habitat and now we complain because they are invading.
Di Martino, however, says a nature reserve wouldn’t change a thing.
“It’s complicated, you have to keep them away from children and animals. And then you’re going to have to find a way to reduce the population, maybe by moving it to other places. “