Rodents the size of St. Bernard swarm an exclusive gated community

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TIGER, Argentina — For years, the lavish villas of Nordelta have hosted bucolic getaways for wealthy Argentines, sheltered in an enclave where industry titans and soccer stars seek to escape the turmoil of city life.

Yet even an exclusive gated community cannot keep the world’s largest rodent out.

Capybaras living in Nordelta can reach 140 pounds. Imagine a Saint Bernard-sized guinea pig with rodents like a beaver, an insatiable herbivore appetite, and XXL-sized droppings. They roam in record numbers, munching on manicured lawns and scuffling with pets. In August, a security camera filmed a food delivery boy being run over from his motorcycle after colliding with a capybara at a dark intersection.

The furry, water-loving creatures were there first – Nordelta was built on their wetland habitat – prompting awkward efforts to relax with the colossal rodents. Neighbors are divided, seeing them as vermin or victims.

“I am not anti-capybara; I want to scratch their cute little bellies as much as anyone else, ”said Gustavo Iglesias, a 62-year-old real estate broker and long-time resident. “The problem is, their population is out of control and people are too scared to do anything. No one wants to appear to be opposed to nature.

Mr Iglesias’ lakeside garden receives a daily portion of giant garbage dumped by the two dozen capybaras resting in his yard, he said. It was bad, but the last straw was when his dog Lucho came home limping with a pair of deep bloody gashes that looked like the work of rodent incisors.

Dog walkers pass grazing capybaras in the community of Nordelta in Argentina.


Photo:

Silvina Frydlewsky for The Wall Street Journal

Capybaras don’t look threatening. Their appearance – broad muzzle, round body – and generally laid-back temperament make them a favorite with visitors to national parks. A Capybara family is featured in “Encanto,” a Walt Disney Co. animated film set in Colombia and debuting next month. They also play the role of grilled delicacies in rural South America.

Large rodents, which usually live in family units of up to 40 animals, have different names in different countries: chiguire in Venezuela, ronsoco in Peru, poncho in Panama and carpincho in Argentina. Females can give birth to half a dozen young per year.

The capybaras seem to take advantage of the sweetness of life in Nordelta. They sunbathe and graze in artificial lagoons, protected from natural predators such as jaguars and caimans, the South American alligator.

Residents who find capybaras a nuisance are unsure of what to do. Rodent hunting requires approval from environmental regulators.

WhatsApp dueling discussion groups have formed in recent months, one pro-capybara, one against.

Capybaras, the world’s largest rodent, has reached record numbers in Argentina’s exclusive gated community of Nordelta.


Photo:

Silvina Frydlewsky for The Wall Street Journal

In July, Anamá Ferreira, a Brazilian model living in Nordelta, posted on Twitter a photo of a bloody capybara which she said was beaten with a buckshot by a neighbor. Another resident posted pictures of a capybara hit by a van.

Nordelta’s man-against-nature saga is attracting national attention. Environmentalists linked to Argentina’s left-wing government want capybaras not to be disturbed by well-to-do members of the community.

“I was outraged by the complaints from the residents of Nordelta,” said Adrián Mazza, a 47-year-old tourist guide in a national park. “It was the humans who invaded the territory of the capybara.”

Others said rodents should be moved, citing traffic accidents and damage from capybaras that eat away lawns and palm trees. “We can’t have a wild animal living here running around the main streets,” said Romina, a 47-year-old teacher, who declined to give her last name.

Biologist and environmentalist Talía Zamboni said she sees few issues as polarizing: “These things are always divided between the right and the left, the rich and the poor, and here we have these little animals caught in the middle.”

Some environmentalists have cited the capybaras of Nordelta to urge lawmakers to push forward long-delayed legislation banning development in Argentina’s wetlands.

Capybaras has long inhabited the wetlands where the gated community of Nordelta was built.


Photo:

Silvina Frydlewsky for The Wall Street Journal

Nordelta was built on the outskirts of the Paraná River delta, north of Buenos Aires, after being inaugurated in 1999. It was marketed as an American-style safe haven for wealthy Argentines, including full-time residents. . A slogan on the Nordelta website promises “the tranquility of nature and the comfort of the city”.

Huge rodents are testing what nature residents really want. Mr Iglesias said after his dog was attacked two years ago he spoke of controlling the capybara population. His 36-year-old daughter, who also lives in Nordelta, opposed him.

“She thought I wanted to kill the capybaras!” he said. “On the contrary. I like living with them, as long as there is a balance.

Nordelta developer Eduardo Costantini recently sought to reassure Argentines in radio interviews that there were no plans to kill the animals. He also urged locals to find a way to live in harmony with the large rodents.

“Capybaras are helpless, lovable beings who need the care and love of all of us,” Mr. Costantini wrote in a recent Instagram post. He declined to comment.

Marcelo Canton, who heads the association of residents of Nordelta, explains how neighbors to the lakeside properties have had to coexist with a growing number of capybaras.


Photo:

Silvina Frydlewsky for The Wall Street Journal

Capybaras mostly live around high-end waterfront properties, which make up about 15% of Nordelta’s 3,000 properties, according to residents. On a recent day, cyclists and runners swerved around capybaras blocking a path in the park while the animals ate grass.

Retired journalist Marcelo Canton, spokesperson for a local neighbors association, said his group had proposed various plans to government regulators. One is to create a 500 acre reserve for capybaras in Nordelta. Another idea: castrate the males.

It was impossible to be heard by wildlife officials during the pandemic, Canton said. In the meantime, the association has installed road signs inviting motorists and cyclists to watch the capybaras.

“It was very painful to see people accuse us of mistreating the capybaras, because we have a lot of respect for them here,” said Canton, joined by a few as he spoke. . “We are investing a lot of money to make sure they are safe.”

Write to Kejal Vyas at kejal.vyas@wsj.com

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