The capybara is the largest rodent on earth, commonly reaching between 150 and 175 pounds, according to zoo officials. The South American native species has slightly webbed feet and are excellent swimmers.
They prefer to live in densely vegetated areas and use their swimming skills to escape predators.
“Their natural predators would be jaguar and pumas, but jaguars would be the main thing in South America,” mammal supervisor Brianna Watson said. “It's about the only thing big enough to really take them down.”
The parent capybaras, Penny and Shock, were introduced in the spring of 2012, and Penny gave birth to her first litter in September, Watson said. The litter was small, with two babies, named Max and Marlo.
Watson said the couple rebred almost immediately, and the five newest babies were born Tuesday, Feb. 27, each weighing between two and three pounds. Watson said they have not been named yet.
One of the little ones needed some extra care.
“Its feet were folded over whenever it was born, so we splinted them, wrapped it up for a few days and now (it) is walking fine,” Watson said. “Just so the splints didn't get wet we drained the ponds, but now (it's) walking around fine.”
Watson said the rodents generally live in herds that can be about 20 to 30 in a group.
“They have to be born ready to go to stay away from predators and stay up with the group,” she said.
Penny and her seven babies are on display everyday in the South America section of the zoo. They share an area with the giant anteaters, white ibis birds and fulvous whistling ducks.
They are not the only babies in the exhibit, and a mother anteater, Ellie Mae, can be seen toting her two-month-old baby Zander on her back each evening.
Watson said although capybaras are generally docile herbivores, Penny had to be separated from her young while keepers gave medical examinations to her newborns. Periodically, she and Ella butt protective heads.
Daddy capybara, Shock, is currently being kept out of sight to give Penny a break. Watson said the zoo did not want her rebred too quickly.
“Whenever we had the other ones born, he helped her too. He would tend to them with her, so he's a good daddy,” Watson said.
The family will be together for a few more months before the two oldest, Max and Marlo, will be moved to other facilities as part of a nationwide breeding program.
Watson said zoos track the breeding patterns and genetics of their animals and work to avoid genetic diseases or the animals becoming inbred.
“We breed and whatever facility needs a new capybara, we will ship them to those guys, and we will have these young ones several months before we get ready to send them anywhere,” she said, Scott Maddox, assistant director of Caldwell Zoo, commended the staff for the little ones safe arrival, and said the new additions could not have come at a better time.
“The timing couldn't be more perfect since the weather is warming up, and next week is spring break,” he said. “It will give us an opportunity to show some babies to our visitors, and we will get busy next week if the weather is good.”